The Senate candidate he supports in an Alabama run-off goes down to embarrassing defeat. The sports world is inflamed over his reaction to national anthem protests. His promise to do away with Obamacare is rebuked again.
For U.S. President Donald Trump, just an average week from hell.
As the first anniversary of his election approaches, he is in acute need of a win. The trade file – success on a NAFTA overhaul – offers a ray of hope. But not much of one.
Trade reform faces so many obstacles it will likely go the way of Mr. Trump's attempted health-care reform, says Scott Miller, a trade specialist at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He is not alone among trade connoisseurs in thinking that, like Obamacare, NAFTAcare will be saved because a majority in Congress will stand up for it. If negotiators reach a new agreement and it somehow makes it to the floor of Congress, a long shot to begin with, chances for passage are dim. "There is basically no appetite for it," says Mr. Miller.
You wouldn't get that impression by the consternation with which Canadians seemingly greet every Trumpian twitch on trade reform. But in Washington, the issue is closer to bottom of mind than top. Even this week's thunderbolt from the Commerce Department – hitting Bombardier with a mammoth 220 per cent duty on sales of jets to Delta Air Lines – was met with a media yawn here. You needed a magnifying glass to find the story.
One of the reasons, as Mr. Scott put it, is that trade overhaul is a campaign pledge looking for a constituency. Excepting Mr. Trump himself, few are banging the drums for it. Not the lawmakers, not the business community, not the farming community, not even, in a demonstrative way, the Rust Belt states.
A NAFTA negotiation outcome that Mr. Trump would consider satisfactory would require red meat for his base. But substantial change works both ways. Mexico isn't about to start reducing tariffs for nothing in return. Canada is not about to agree to the elimination of a trade dispute-settlement mechanism. The decision against Bombardier has made the stakes on that issue even higher.
Without a big gain in the negotiations, Mr. Trump will be tempted, as he has been before, to withdraw from NAFTA. That idea is looking all the more insane. Tom Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, fired a warning blast just days ago in The Wall Street Journal. "Quitting NAFTA would be an economic, political and national-security disaster."
On a plethora of issues, the neophyte Mr. Trump began his presidency in pampers. Trade was one. He's been going off half-cocked. Robert Lighthizer, his lead trade negotiator, has no choice but to repeat off-kilter claims on the trade balance and issues like rules of origin and a "sunset clause". "Lighthizer is up a creek without a paddle," says Gordon Ritchie, a former Canadian ambassador for trade negotiations. The Americans have started this renegotiation with "a completely specious premise." Citing just one example, he says: "Rules of origin have worked out very well for American firms. Their assessment of the auto industry trade is false."
On the trade balance, here was David MacNaughton, Canada's savvy ambassador to the United States, recently levying a touch of sarcasm at wayward American claims. "I'd just like to remind the Americans that they have a $34-billion surplus in manufactured goods with Canada. I'd be interested to know what it is that the United States is proposing to do to reduce that surplus."
Even jobs in the Rust Belt states, Scott Miller says, are not the big NAFTA problem they are made out to be. "My state is Ohio. Ohio is dependent on NAFTA; 50 per cent of our exports go to Canada." As for manufacturing jobs, he wonders if anyone has looked at the findings of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently. Not only is the unemployment rate at a very low 4.4 per cent, advanced manufacturing jobs are available by the score. "They can't fill the vacancies."