As a candidate who ran on protectionist trade policy, one of Trump’s main bêtes noires was NAFTA, which he has called the “worst trade deal ever approved in this country.” Trump’s rhetoric on NAFTA helped endear him to the white working class voters in formerly manufacturing-heavy areas who helped put him in the White House. He has repeatedly promised to renegotiate the agreement, and if all else fails, pull out altogether. Early on in his administration, Trump lived up to one trade-related campaign promise by pulling the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But in the early days of his administration, Trump had shown signs of moderating on trade, or at least of entertaining more moderate views. Reports leaked out of a “civil war” over trade, with nationalist ideologues like Bannon and National Trade Council chief Peter Navarro on one side, and Wall Street-connected centrists like National Economic Council head Gary Cohn on the other. And a draft letter to Congress that leaked to the media appeared to show a more moderate posture towards NAFTA, suggesting less dramatic changes to the agreement and not proposing ditching it altogether.
The senior White House official told me that Cohn and his allies had been against this draft executive order on NAFTA. Cohn has been seen as one of the key figures in the faction associated with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump; infighting between this faction and Bannon recently spilled into public view. The conventional wisdom had been that the Kushner allies came out as the victors, with Bannon’s fall from grace representing the sidelining of the populist nationalism Trump espoused as a candidate. Bannon was removed from his seat on the principals’ committee of the National Security Council, and Trump himself chastised the chief strategist publicly, saying in interviews that Bannon had joined his campaign late and that it was Trump who led the White House’s strategy, not Bannon.
But despite weeks of Washington gossip assuming Bannon’s imminent downfall, Bannon is still there. And whether or not the order is signed, that it is even being considered ups the ante on the administration’s posture towards U.S. trading partners following increasingly heated rhetoric from the administration. Trump has become increasingly aggressive towards Canada, imposing a tariff on Canadian lumber.
"People don't realize Canada's been very rough on the United States,” Trump told a meeting of agricultural leaders on Tuesday. “They've outsmarted our politicians for years."
“Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult. We will not stand for this. Watch!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
Just last week, Trump told the AP in an interview that he was either going to renegotiate or terminate NAFTA, and that “If they don't treat fairly, I am terminating NAFTA.”