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Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin.The Globe and Mail

In Springfield, Mo., on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump was at it again, posing with the sword of Damocles over the continental trade agreement, "the horrible, terrible NAFTA deal."

It's becoming irritating to listen to his junk science about the North American free-trade agreement and his death threats.

Just watch me, Mr. Trump warned for the third time in the past week. If we don't get our way on renegotiations, we'll terminate the agreement.

"Go ahead," Justin Trudeau was probably thinking. "Make my day."

Actually, the best response to the termination threat came from an American official closely associated with the continuing renegotiation of the deal. "I don't know a single person with a working brain cell who thinks that that's a good idea," he said.

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That's an exaggeration of course. But important Republican policy makers with working brain cells can be included in the estimate. They don't want a NAFTA abrogation to happen. If such an event happens, they are, if not threatening to rebel, then close to it. And in the end, this is what may save the accord.

Mr. Trump's relations with his Republican Congress have become so toxic that he can ill-afford the risk of going to such an extreme.

Kevin Brady, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, warned the President on Wednesday against using the red-hot threats and rhetoric, saying it serves no purpose. While Mr. Trump thinks the deal has been a disaster, Mr. Brady, who does favour a modernization, thinks pretty much the opposite. "I think NAFTA has been extremely beneficial to the United States in many ways."

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees trade laws, has been categorical. "I think we ought to stay in NAFTA. That doesn't mean we can't make better agreements than we have. But I think we ought to do our best to uphold those international trade agreements."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, is on that page as well. "I don't see any benefit in trying to crawl back into our shell as a country."

Mr. Trump has shown little regard for the sensitivities of fellow Republicans. He often insults them. But at some point, he has to assess where this approach has gotten him. He is below 40 per cent in job-approval ratings, has fewer and fewer allies, has no legislative accomplishments to speak of.

The Senate rebuffed him on his promised health-care reform. He hasn't got his his funding for the Mexican wall. He is opposed on many elements of his tax overhaul plan.

If the results of the Russian election meddling probe are incriminatory, Mr. Trump may well need the support of House Republicans to save his presidency. Throwing out NAFTA wouldn't help in getting that support.

Another consideration are midterm elections that are little more than a year away. His Republicans do not want to face the electorate with the state of trade in chaos.

Republicans are open to some of Mr. Trump's thoughts about more protection for American jobs. But they'd prefer not to have their intelligence insulted by some of the rubbish his White House is throwing on trade.

When renegotiations began, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer asserted that the U.S. government had certified that 700,000 Americans had lost their jobs owing to NAFTA. Since NAFTA is 24 years old, that represents 30,000 jobs a year – which is minuscule in a job market of far more than 100 million people. On top of that, Mr. Lighthizer's statistics were selective and badly dated. Moreover, the stats included only job losses, not any compensating job gains owing to the accord.

It is unclear whether Congress actually has the right to prevent the President from abandoning the trade agreement. But the possibility is another thing Mr. Trump has to worry about if he pulls the trigger.

As has been evident, he is not one who is necessarily persuaded by rational argument. But if he senses his political livelihood is at stake, he will be more likely to forge alliances necessary to save him. That could well be what saves the continental trade accord.

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