Trump’s Messaging Strategy on NAFTA

He knew in advance about the leak of his uncompromising negotiating tactics, and sent five messages in one tweet.

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Before the failure of the NAFTA negotiations on Friday (they are scheduled to resume on Wednesday), The Star, as is known, published remarks that U.S. President Donald J. Trump had made off-the-record to Bloomberg reporters.

Trump said specifically that he would make no compromises at all with Canada but could not say so publicly because “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.” These remarks show off his remarkable messaging skills. But before explaining that, let me remind what else he said and give background.

Trump added that any deal would be “totally on our terms” and indicated that he is using the threat of loss of automobile jobs in Ontario as pressure. It has in fact been Trump’s long-term plan to bring those jobs back to the American Midwest, states such as Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

That is because those “rustbelt” states will be at a disadvantage when European automobile manufacturing comes to the U.S., where the southern states have an immense advantage. The combination of lower labour costs, lower energy costs, lower taxation, lower land-acquisition costs and lower construction costs is convincing European manufacturers to relocate to the U.S. South, not just to maintain their sales in the U.S. market but also as a platform for export to the rest of the world.

The press leak came either from inside Bloomberg (but not from the reporters) or from somewhere in the White House itself. I am convinced that Trump knew this would happen one way or another.

Now let me explain what this single leak accomplishes in terms of political messaging. First, remember that Trump validated the report in another remarkable tweet:

With the leak and this tweet, he accomplished no fewer than five political information-messaging goals:

  1. He showed (again) media cannot be trusted.
  2. He messaged the Ottawa elite, over the heads of Trudeau and Freedland, on (what he wants to them to think is) his strategy.
  3. He messaged U.S. officials on current tactics.
  4. He messaged that Canadian public on the incompetence of the current Government.
  5. He messaged third-party foreign leaders on his unhesitating willingness to deal decisively to American advantage from a position of strength.

All that with one press leak and one tweet. And still he is underestimated as an orange-haired buffoon. What a show to watch.


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R.M. Cutler

Chairman, Montreal Press Club Board of Directors

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