At the end of the G7 summit in Biarritz, Trump announced that we intends to hold the next G7 summit at his golf resort National Dora in Miami. This is just one incidence out of many that for Trump golf and politics, including trade politics, belong together. In this blogpost of slightly exceptional character, guest author Jordan Fuller looks into how Trump’s experience as a golfer is shaping his trade policies.
When trying to follow President Donald Trump’s perspective on trade, it would be wise to understand Trump’s devotion to the game of golf. Trump’s trips to his golf courses as President have become commonplace as he has played roughly 200 rounds during his term so far. Trump said about fellow golfers: “You learn their honesty, you learn their competitiveness. You learn a lot about a person. It’s not that they have to sink the putt and there’s a great deal of talent involved – but you do learn about how competitive a person is on the golf course, and frankly, how honest.” Similarly, in his tweets he frequently uses golf metaphors to describe political processes or characterise people he deals with.
Simply put, President Trump sees everything through the lens of golf.
The sport, however, has taken a few blows from Trump’s actions as president, for example for additional tariffs on steel and aluminium or his latest proposal for another round of higher tariffs on China which could hurt some areas of the golf industry and increase prices on golf bags, golf hats and visors and even mower parts for course maintenance.
So how does Trump’s relationship with golf affect his outlook on dealing with other counties, especially with regard to trade?
On Keeping Score
When Gary Cohn took over as National Economic Council Director for the Trump administration, he commonly found the President distracted when discussing the finer points of the trade conversation according to Bob Woodward’s book, Fear: Trump in the White House.
Trump didn’t agree with Cohn’s advice that a trade war would be damaging to the American economy. In Cohn’s mind, trade deficits were a good thing because America was becoming a service economy and therefore, would spend less on imported goods because they were coming from other countries.
But for Trump, America was losing because the trade deficit scoreboard said so. As long as it helped the US to stay ahead of China, he saw it as winning the game.
Staying Out of the Sand Trap
President Trump loves to use golf metaphors wherever he can fit them in, whether it is in a speech or on social media.
In late December of 2018, the President tweeted about the Federal Reserve, “The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch – he can’t putt!”
But Trump’s direction on trade could hurt the businesses that support his golfing empire. According to the National Golf Foundation, new tariffs “would mean a 10 percent to 25 percent tax on imported goods, potentially forcing some companies to increase prices or move manufacturing elsewhere unless they absorb the added expense.” The tariff would affect U.S. based companies, like Imperial Headwear, that imported materials for a variety of golf equipment such as their golf hats for the U.S. Open each year.
“It’s something we are watching very closely as it could potentially impact our supply chain and cost of goods if the change in fact becomes reality,” said David Shaffer, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing of Imperial Headwear.
On Winning The Round
Trump’s affinity for golf has become an open door for senators and other leaders looking for some one-on-one time for discussions with the President. He has also used the game as a tool for diplomacy.
When Trump started to rumble about trade with Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined the President for a round at Trump National Golf Club in northern Virginia and Abe returned the favor during Trump’s May 2019 visit in the hope of getting Trump to lift the aluminum and steel tariffs on his country.
PM Abe’s attempt at diplomacy via golf failed to move Trump. Japan’s exports have fallen by close to 5 percent over the first six months of 2019. Similarly, while it is unknown who of the two statesmen won these games, it is generally accepted that President Trump is a much better golfer. What Abe most likely discovered on the course is that Trump stops at nothing to win.
On Rigging The Game
Remember the Trump quote on how golf can help to learn about a person’s character? Actually, his way of playing golf may tell us a lot about Trump’s own personality. We learn that he is fiercely competitive but not always playing by the rules: On the occasion that Trump takes a mulligan or moves a golf ball on the course for a better spot to hit, he always has his caddie back up his score, whether it is right or wrong.
Unlike his general economic advisory team, where hiring and firing was frequent, Trump’s trade team has remained unchanged since the beginning of his administration. Peter Navarro, the director for trade and industrial policy, Wilbur Ross, Secretary for Commerce and Robert Lightizer, the US Trade Representative are still in their places. Maybe because they acted like Trump would expect a caddie to act: back up his score and reassure him of his game.
My Course. My Rules.
When Trump plays golf, he always rides alone in his own cart. He speeds ahead of his playing group, hits balls out of turn and never, ever stops until his last putt on the 18th green – a blatant disregard for the rules of the game and its etiquette.
The lesson is simple when you play with the President: My course. My rules.
One of the first official rules of golf covers the expected conduct of a player. Playing in the spirit of the game requires players “to act with integrity […], show consideration for others […] and take good care of the course”. There might still be lessons for life to be learned from the game of golf that Trump has not yet learned.
Therefore, when looking at the direction of where America is headed under Trump’s leadership with regard to trade deficits, it would be smart to remember that lesson from the links.