Presidential candidate Donald Trump clashed with rivals Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush during Thursday's Republican debate over his proposal to set a tariff on Chinese goods.
At first, Trump denied a recent New York Times report that he had proposed a 45% tariff on Chinese imports during a meeting with the paper's editorial board. "It's the New York Times, they're always wrong," he said.
But then Trump proceeded to say that he was still open to tariffs, arguing that it was one of the only tools that the U.S. has to counter China's overwhelming advantage in exports and currency devaluation. "If they don't treat us fairly, hey, their whole trade is tariffed," Trump said. "You can't deal in China without tariffs. They do it to us, we don't. It's not fair trade."
Trump's competitors were quick to band together and point out, however, that imposing tariffs would end up burdening the U.S. more than it would China. Senator Marco Rubio argued that American consumers would foot the tariff while purchasing imported goods at higher prices. And Bush said that he believes China would respond by hoisting high tariffs on American exports.
Cruz, for his part, espoused what he called a "middle ground" between the ideas set forth by Trump and Bush—a tax plan that would charge a 16% "business flat tax."
In response to Trump's dismissal of the Times, the paper released the transcript of its conversation with the candidate, which showed that Trump was outspoken in his support for a tariff, in an effort to remedy a longstanding trade imbalance between the U.S. and China. (Trump asserted the trade deficit is nearing $505 billion, though PolitiFact says that's an exaggeration: According to the Census, the gap was about $343 billion in 2014.)
From the Times article:
"The only power that we have with China," Mr. Trump said, "is massive trade."
"I would tax China on products coming in," Mr. Trump said. "I would do a tariff, yes—and they do it to us."
Mr. Trump added that he’s "a free trader," but that "it’s got to be reasonably fair."
"I would do a tax...and the tax, let me tell you what the tax should be … the tax should be 45 percent," Mr. Trump said.