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Trump Has Long Believed America Is A Victim Of International Trade


Today President Trump officially ordered the tariffs he's promised.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will have a 25 percent tariff on foreign steel and a 10 percent tariff on foreign aluminum when the product comes across our borders.

KELLY: The president made this move despite opposition from lots of corners - GOP lawmakers, Gary Cohn, his now former top economic adviser, even some domestic parts makers. It is clear one of Trump's core beliefs is that America has been victimized by global trade.


TRUMP: I think a lot of people are tired of watching other countries ripping off the United States. This is...

KELLY: That's not from the campaign trail. That was from three decades ago. He was on CNN's "Larry King." He was 41 years old.


TRUMP: They laugh at us. Behind our backs, they laugh at us because of our own stupidity.

KELLY: Here to talk us through this long-standing belief of Trump's is Tim O'Brien. He's executive editor of Bloomberg View, and he wrote a book about Trump. And, Tim, start there. In the late-'80s, back then, Trump was talking about Japan. Is that right?

TIMOTHY O'BRIEN: That's right. Donald Trump was a real estate guy, and Japan in that period of course was buying iconic properties - the Rockefeller Center, the Pebble Beach golf course. Trump's all, this is menacing and decided to portray Japan as the embodiment of U.S. weakness and an inability to get with the program, toughen up and begin to lap countries like Japan.

KELLY: And how did these views manifest themselves when Trump launched his very first presidential campaign in the late-'80s?

O'BRIEN: Well, he flew up in a helicopter to New Hampshire at the behest of Roger Stone in October of 1987.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: New York billionaire arrived on his own helicopter...

O'BRIEN: Hops in a car and goes and speaks to the locals.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Trump told this capacity audience America needs to get tough with the Japanese and the Russians.

O'BRIEN: He got all of this free press in the wake of that appearance, which I don't think he expected. What he also discovered was that he had touched a nerve, particularly among conservatives and folks in the heartland who did feel the United States was being taken for a ride. And he took out this huge ad in The New York Times...


LARRY KING: Today he sunk $95,000 into a full-page newspaper ad.

O'BRIEN: ...And went on to say how for decades, Japan and other countries have been taking advantage of the United States, and we shouldn't be laughed at anymore.

KELLY: So that's all unfolding in the '80s, but I suppose the roots of Trump's beliefs on trade, on tariffs - they go way back to his childhood.

O'BRIEN: So in the mid-1950s, he's a little boy with his face pressed up against the glass of the American dream. And I think in a lot of ways, those are the visions that dance around in his head when he's trying to recall an America that he thinks we've lost.

KELLY: Steel was king. I mean, steel was source of American power.


TRUMP: I remember when I was growing up, U.S. Steel - that was the ultimate company.

KELLY: You could also make the case that he has made this very personal, that he has connected trade to workers.


TRUMP: There's nothing that's closer to my heart than trade. There's nothing that's closer to my heart actually than the workers that are being so badly hurt, so badly...

O'BRIEN: I think he knows it clicks for the people who watch him, who very legitimately feel at sea financially. And those are the voters that Trump is speaking to.

KELLY: Tim O'Brien - he is executive editor of Bloomberg View, also author of the book "TrumpNation." Tim O'Brien, thank you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.