The Slatest

Donald Trump’s Victory Speech Was All About Trade Because Hillary

Donald Trump addresses supporters in West Palm Beach, Florida, following his victory in that state’s primary on March 15, 2016. 

Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump celebrated another great night in his campaign to become the Republican nominee for president on Tuesday by yet again showing us his softer side at Mar-a-Lago, seeming to preview his potential general election messaging in a rambling victory speech.

There was nothing in his speech about “Little Marco,” or “Lying Ted,” or banning Muslims from entering the country, or rounding up and deporting 12 million people, or even about building a wall along the Mexican border to keep out people he once characterized as rapists and criminals. Instead, Trump focused on the broad themes of “winning,” reclaiming lost jobs for Americans, and vilifying trade pacts that have had the support of his very likely soon-to-be rival, Hillary Clinton, and have left working-class Americans of all stripes feeling dispossessed by the modern economy.

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“We will, someday in the not too distant future—if I win, otherwise it’s not going to happen, I have to be honest with you—but Apple, and all of these great companies will be making their great products in the United States, not in China, Vietnam …” Trump said.

Trump’s policies of massive tariffs against current trade partners seems likely to cost more jobs than it creates, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be an effective general election message against Clinton, who has been tarred—with some success—in the Democratic primary as an icon of free trade by rival candidate Bernie Sanders. Trump has spent much of his own primary campaign (when he wasn’t vilifying immigrants, Muslims, and protesters) touting his protectionism, and one can easily imagine him doing the same thing to Clinton in a general election. He devoted the largest substantive portions of his victory speech to emphasizing those trade policies.

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“So many companies are leaving and frankly I’m disgusted with it, and I’m tired of seeing it, and there’s no reason for it, it’s just gross incompetence at the highest level, we should not allow it to happen,” Trump said. “People can’t get their money back into the country because the politicians can’t get along, they can’t make a deal. Everybody agrees, Democrat and Republican.”

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Trump nodded to the anger that has manifested itself as violence at his political rallies but attempted to contextualize it as anger toward America’s trade policies and foreign policy.

One of the broadcasters was saying ‘is there anger?’ I’m supposed to say, ‘no, there’s not, we love the way things are working, we love the deal you made with Iran, it’s wonderful, you give them $150 billion, we get nothing, we love all the deals, the trade deals are wonderful, you lose $500 billion a year with China, we loss $58 billion a year in terms of imbalance.’ It’s a total imbalance. We don’t make good deals anymore. We don’t win anymore.

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….

They’re not angry people, but they want to see the country properly run. They want to see borders, they want to see good health care, they want to see things properly taken care of. They want our military rebuilt, our military is in a very bad state. They want it rebuilt.

Trump has already shown the message is a potentially powerful one, though with all of the baggage he has picked up during the primary fight it’s very difficult to see how it’s strong enough to beat one of the Democrats in a general election, even one as vulnerable to anti-trade rhetoric as Clinton.

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