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Trump's Soft Targets

Trump's Soft Targets

The world moved one step closer toward a trade war last week, as the US implemented long-postponed tariffs against its allies (Mexico, Canada, and the EU). Why did the Trump administration finally decide to lower the hammer on Washington’s friends?


Simple, says my fellow Signalista Gabe Lipton. They’re easy targets.

In Mexico, outgoing incumbent President Pena Nieto faces an election next month in which his business-friendly party, the PRI, will likely experience its most crushing loss in decades. That means he’s under huge pressure to strike a NAFTA deal with Washington that safeguards Mexico’s long-term business interests before the election of leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who could blow up the NAFTA talks entirely. With Pena Nieto over a barrel, Trump’s metals tariffs are designed to force Mexico to give away the store before Lopez Obrador has a chance to set up shop. Will it work?

For Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Trump’s tariffs pose a different political problem — getting baited into a trade war could hurt politically important industrial bases in Ontario and Quebec which rely on the US market, but responding too softly could hurt him with an electorate that deeply dislikes the US president. Trump knows Trudeau has a fine line to walk, and sees an opportunity to knock him off it, particularly since the heartthrob prime minister could suffer a political blow if Doug Ford (a populist businessman often compared to Trump), wins an election to run Ontario this week.

As for the EU, Trump knows full well that crafting a forceful and unified response to the US requires forging consensus among 28 countries, who are struggling to find unity on most things these days. What’s more, Europe’s abiding commitments to WTO rules (Quaint! Sad!) incline it to take a more deliberative and litigious approach to trade disputes that can get left in the dust by Trump’s norm-breaking executive actions. That said, if Trump follows through with proposed tariffs on European autos — which dwarf steel and aluminum as exports to the US — could the Europeans take a toothier approach?

The bottom line: For President Trump, going after US allies is way to ring up quick and dirty wins on an issue — trade — that’s popular with his base. Of course, that still leaves the challenge of facing down China, a competitor that enjoys greater economic heft, and far fewer political or economic constraints, than any of America’s soft target friends.

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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