DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The Republican Party, long the stalwart of free trade, is grappling with President Trump's trade policy. Last week, the president imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of goods from China. China responded in kind. Now, the president says ultimately this will help U.S. workers. But some Americans for the moment are hurting. We had a Minnesota soybean farmer on our program today who says he's going to suffer from China's retaliatory tariffs. He says he feels right now like a pawn in a chess game and that President Trump better get this right. So what do longtime conservatives make of the president's approach? Well, we have Jonah Goldberg here. He is senior editor of National Review. Jonah, good morning.
JONAH GOLDBERG: Good morning.
GREENE: And I want to talk about trade and also try and get to the president's Supreme Court pick. But let's start with trade. I mean, how are people in conservative circles responding to this - the trade conflicts that have been provoked by this president?
GOLDBERG: It's interesting. For politicians, there are basically two responses. One is that, depending on what your state is and who's being targeted in your state because these tariffs are potentially targeted, it is either to defend the president by switching topics to intellectual property theft in China, which is egregious and does need to be dealt with.
GREENE: Everyone sort of agrees with that.
GOLDBERG: Everyone agrees with that. The problem is whether or not these are the tools to do that and whether or not that's really President Trump's goal because President Trump has been talking about this sort of protectionist trade stuff for 30 or 40 years now. It's one of his few core ideological convictions. And interestingly, this is one of the few areas where elected Republicans are actually willing to publicly distance themselves from the president. They're just not willing to do it with any teeth to it.
You know, the president of the United States, regardless of President Trump, really should not have this trade authority. The idea that we're going to impose tariffs on Canada for national security reasons, which is the real thing that the president is invoking, is kind of ludicrous. And so one of the things that a lot of conservatives are kind of hoping is that Congress actually claws back the authority that the Constitution gives it to be the one that actually handles trade. But for right now, it is a delicate dance. No one wants to get on the wrong side of President Trump. No one likes to be singled out. So the criticism is there. It just tends to be muted.
GREENE: What is in it for this president then? If there's not a clear path to helping American workers necessarily, if he's bucking many in his party, like what politically is in it for him to be taking this approach right now?
GOLDBERG: Whether this is praise or criticism probably depends on the viewer. I think this is one of his core convictions. I think he honestly and sincerely believes this stuff. He is locked into, by my lights, this sort of - there was this - I came of age politically in the 1980s when there was this anti-Japanese trade panic in America. You can go back and see clips of him on "The Phil Donahue Show" saying the exact same things except replace Japan for China.
GREENE: He's been consistent.
GOLDBERG: And this is one of the few areas where he has been consistently sort of a statist protectionist.
GREENE: And does that help with a lot of his core voters - to present himself as consistent?
GOLDBERG: (Laughter) That's an interesting question. I think the relationship with Donald Trump among his core voters is stronger than any single policy issue. I mean, the LA Times had a fascinating piece where they talked to people who were basically going to lose their jobs over this. And they were still saying how they support the president. They're with the president.
I think that one of the things that gets lost in the mix is that trade is another example of one of these sort of stalking horses for cultural issues. Immigration is another obvious one. People want to make them into policy arguments. But the reality is that these are essentially cultural issues masquerading as policy issues. And I think that the trade one is just another example of that. And people have a connection with Trump that he's their fighter. He's their guy. Maybe when the pain sets in more, as I think it will if this continues on its path...
GREENE: As we hear voices like this one from Minnesota...
GOLDBERG: Exactly. People will rethink their position.
GREENE: Let me turn to the Supreme Court. We have Republicans in the Senate who are saying to this president, just please give us a Supreme Court nominee who we can get through confirmation. How crucial is that? If the president, say, sticks to convictions and decides to choose someone who he might really believe is the person he wants on that court but might spark, you know, a nomination battle, could that be a problem for the Republican Party heading into these midterms?
GOLDBERG: Well, look. There's going to be a nomination battle no matter what.
GREENE: The Democrats are not going to let anyone go through easy.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, it is going to be the fight scene from "Anchorman" no matter what, OK.
GOLDBERG: And one of the things that people forget is that this list that was compiled is essentially a reassuring list to the right. Back when they first came out with this idea, one of the last things that was causing a lot of people to sort of say, I don't know if I can pull the trigger for this guy, was the court. They took it so seriously on the right.
GREENE: Lot of people think he might have won the election because of...
GREENE: It was a commitment to bring conservative justice onto that court.
GOLDBERG: And by putting out that list, he reassured - he basically outsourced the - you know, he normally says, I have the best judgment. I have the best instincts. This list is a sort of Trump-constraining artifice. And I would think that the most dangerous thing he could do politically is go off list because that would freak out a lot of movement conservatives who are with him for transactional reasons and - including a lot of evangelicals. And so I think if he stays on the list, it's still going to be a hard fight because the margin in the Senate is so narrow. What is it - 51 votes? John McCain, we don't know if he's going to be able to vote. But the safest path is to pick someone from this list because they've already been vetted to a large extent.
GREENE: President Trump is going to now have at least two of his choices on the U.S. Supreme Court. It could be more. As we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road, are we going to look back and say there were a lot of decisions made by this court because Donald Trump was president and not another, say, Republican?
GOLDBERG: I don't know if that's true. Again, one of the reasons why that list went forward is that they - it is a list that almost any mainstream Republican president would want to choose from. I think people will go back and say, maybe we shouldn't have nominated Hillary Clinton. Maybe we shouldn't have lost - the Democrats may say, maybe we shouldn't have lost in 2014. It does underscore how elections do matter.
GREENE: Jonah Goldberg is senior editor of National Review. And he's also author of the book "Suicide Of The West." Jonah, it's always great having you. Thanks a lot.
GOLDBERG: It's great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.