By Chris Adams

What happens when the views of the experts and views of political leaders – and the voters they represent – collide?

That’s what has been at play in the trade war ignited by the United States, where expert opinion on how to handle trade relations and popular and political opinion are often at odds.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Steven Okun of McLarty Associates detailed the views on trade among voters in the U.S., as well as on business owners. As part of that, he explained how the public sentiment that drove Donald Trump to the White House – and could keep him there – is often at odds with expert opinion on trade.

To understand and write about the trade conflict today, journalists need to understand the political dynamics in the U.S. as well as China. Trump has a base of power that means he will continue to provoke China on trade issues; Chinese President Xi Jinping likewise has a base of power in his country.

Both men feel they can withstand any short-term political pain that may come from trade-and-tariff-related economic disruptions. And until one of those men blink, the trade tensions will persist.

Even though there are plenty of people in Washington – including those in Trump’s own Republican Party – who disagree with the president’s actions, he’s essentially insulated from their criticisms. Trump’s overall approval ratings in mid-2019 are underwater, but they remain high among Republicans.

“You have to understand that even if there are Republican senators who disagree with him, they’re not going to say anything because of Trump’s sky-high approval rating,” said Okun (bio, Twitter).