President Donald Trump has become increasingly rattled over the potential of an economic downturn and is spinning to find victories to sell to voters.
He and his economic team, who are often at odds with one another, have been searching for ways to prevent market anxieties from spilling over into next year’s presidential election, but have yet to agree on a solution. They have wavered between floating tax cuts to insisting they aren’t considering tax cuts. They have feuded privately over which direction to take. They have contradicted each other publicly.
And Trump has insisted it’s the Federal Reserve’s fault, while his own aides have admitted much of it is because of his trade war with China. Trump refuses to give up on the tactic, saying it would make him look weak.
He’s said similarly about the wall – that his supporters will think he’s weak if he doesn’t get it built soon.
Still, Trump flashed signs of optimism this week that the trade war could be resolved, saying he’s received calls from Chinese officials saying they wanted to restart talks. Though Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted there had been “communication,” aides privately conceded the phone calls Trump described didn’t happen they way he said they did.
Instead, two officials said Trump was eager to project optimism that might boost markets, and conflated comments from China’s vice premier with direct communication from the Chinese.
The charged language coming out of the White House in recent weeks largely boils down to this, people say: The economy is flashing warning signs Trump didn’t expect, his trade war with China is dragging on months longer than expected yet he refuses to give in and his chief promise to supporters – that he would build a wall along the southern border – has gone unfulfilled.
Trump, sources say, is searching for an accomplishment to run on in 2020 – and realizing time is running short to fulfill some of the key promises he made to voters in 2016.
Trump has recently told aides he would pardon them if they committed illegal acts while fulfilling his demand to build a wall on the southern border by 2020, two officials confirmed to CNN. The Washington Post first reported the pardon comments. While his spokesmen insist he was only kidding, the eyebrow-raising assurances come as Trump has urgently told aides he’s serious about finishing the wall – stressing that it could be key to his reelection.
Customs and Border Protection has replaced existing barriers that were deteriorating along the southern border, but as of August, no new miles have been constructed. Trump has held regular meetings with aides demanding to know why more hasn’t been done – during which he remarked about the need for pardons – as he’s claimed publicly it’s already being built.
Since returning from the G7 summit in France, Trump has lashed out over the coverage of his weekend with world leaders. He has told aides, and declared publicly, that the media is reporting on a different summit than the one he attended. Trump insists meetings with his counterparts went well, even if there were disagreements. He claimed those same leaders were on board with his push to readmit Russia to the group, though sources have told CNN he clashed with some of them at one dinner over the idea.
But Russia wasn’t the only topic Trump and world leaders bitterly disagreed over.
Many also criticized his ongoing trade war with China, including one of his favorites, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said he was “very worried” about the global state of trade and pledged to ask Trump not to escalate the matter.
CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed to this report.