John Kiefner, a farmer who grows corn and soybeans in Manhattan, Ill., is trying this year to make a profit from production of straw and hay in response to the United States' trade war with China and lower soybean prices. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)

This might be a good day to hug a farmer. Or possibly a Republican who remembers when the Grand Old Party stood for something.

With his offer of a $12 billion bailout to cushion the blow of a trade war he started, President Donald Trump has officially jumped the shark (to use an expression that, appropriately enough, can be traced to cheesy TV programming). He’s offering taxpayer largess to a group whose members often profess to hate federal spending to alleviate some of the pain induced by tariffs that only exist because he started tit-for-tat trade hostilities with China, Canada, the European Union and others. Instead of free trade, less government involvement in the economy, an end to deficit spending and fewer handouts, a Republican president is pursuing a protectionist, centrally-planned agenda.


Are Republicans in Congress howling? Well, a little bit. Call it more like grousing. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson compared the Trump tariffs and farm bailout to the actions of a Soviet commissar. Fellow Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ben Sasse of Nebraska compared it to farm welfare and “golden crutches” for the agriculture community. Mr. Trump responded by calling any politician who attacks his trade policy “weak” and claiming potential interference with his negotiations.

“Every time I see a weak politician asking to stop Trade talks or the use of Tariffs to counter unfair Tariffs, I wonder, what can they be thinking?” the president tweeted Wednesday. “Are we just going to continue and let our farmers and country get ripped off?”

So here’s what Mr. Trump is basically saying: “Trust me. I got this. Here’s $12 billion to tide you over.” The problem is that there’s absolutely no reason to believe he has this under control at all. President Trump’s trade war is like every other foray in foreign policy. He’s flying by the seat of his pants. Since taking office in a fit of nationalism last year, the Trump administration has only worsened foreign trade. Countries aren’t scrambling to drop barriers or comply to the president’s wishes or otherwise open up their markets to U.S. producers, they’re busy striking deals with other countries.

Are farmers worried? How could they not be? They are losing customers around the globe. It’s one thing to threaten tariffs, it’s quite another to actually impose them, which is where things now stand. The harm done by this interference in trade is likely to prove lasting. How perfect that Mr. Trump’s $12 billion farm bailout is enabled by the Commodity Credit Corporation, an entity created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help farmers financially devastated by the Great Depression, an economic downtown that itself can be traced to tariffs and bad monetary policies. Apparently, making America “great” again means returning it to late 1920’s foolhardiness.

Phil Hands editorial cartoon - Original Credit: Phil Hands - Original Source: Handout/TNS
Phil Hands editorial cartoon - Original Credit: Phil Hands - Original Source: Handout/TNS (Courtesy)

Bigger government? Check. Increase the deficit? Ditto. Cozy up to some of the worst human rights abusers on the planet? Got that. Take gratuitous swipes at your closest allies and rock the foundations of NATO? Done. Ridicule and disbelieve U.S. intelligence agencies while heaping praise on a ruthless Russian authoritarian? Double-check that one. Now throw in a trade war and a special interest bailout, and it’s clear that the Republican Party of just a few years ago no longer exists in any form or fashion. Just what are GOP candidates going to run on in November, “In Trump We Trust”? Because there’s no rational explanation for such a 180-degree turn in policy. Surely, Republican conservatism as we’ve known it since Ronald Reagan or even Barry Goldwater is now officially dead — and it’s been replaced by a mixture of bullying, bravado and nativism.

Brick by brick, Mr. Trump is building a Trump Tower to a Trump Doctrine which only makes sense to Trump acolytes. If the president really wants to help farmers, there’s an obvious choice: Call off the trade wars. U.S. business groups and the ag community would appreciate it. He can even declare victory (perhaps tweet that he’s demonstrated U.S. resolve on trade and, with the message sent, decided it was more productive to enter a stage of more peaceful negotiation). How he rationalizes the rest of his erratic behavior we leave to others who can better fathom how the party of less government and free markets became the opposite in such a short period of time.