Donald Trump got in a bit of a scuffle with moderator Neil Cavuto last night over a claim (made by the NYT editorial board) that Donald Trump supported a 45% tariff with China. It was one of those exchanges where you sort of expected (given his history) that Donald Trump was flat out lying about his interaction with the NYT in the hopes that no one would notice the fact check later. Here is video of the exchange:

 

(CROSSTALK) CAVUTO: So they’ve never said to put a tariff on their…
TRUMP: We’ve lost anywhere between four and seven million jobs because of China. What I said then was, “we have very unfair trade with China. We’re going to have a trade deficit of 505 billion dollars this year with China.” A lot of that is because they devalue their currency.
 
What I said to the New York Times, is that, “we have great power, economic power over China and if we wanted to use that and the amount — where the 45 percent comes in, that would be the amount they saw their devaluations that we should get.” That we should get.
What I’m saying is this, I’m saying that we do it but if they don’t start treating us fairly and stop devaluing and let their currency rise so that our companies can compete and we don’t lose all of these millions of jobs that we’re losing, I would certainly start taxing goods that come in from China. Who the hell has to lose 505 billion dollars a year?
CAVUTO: I’m sorry, you lost me.
TRUMP: It’s not that complicated actually.
CAVUTO: Then I apologize. Then I want to understand, if you don’t want a 45 percent tariff, say that wasn’t the figure, would you be open — are you open to slapping a higher tariff on Chinese goods of any sort to go back at them?
* * *

TRUMP:  Now, on that tariff — here’s what I’m saying, China — they send their goods and we don’t tax it — they do whatever they want to do. They do whatever what they do, OK. When we do business with China, they tax us. You don’t know it, they tax us.

I have many friends that deal with China. They can’t — when they order the product and when they finally get the product it is taxed. If you looking at what happened with Boeing and if you look at what happened with so many companies that deal — so we don’t have an equal playing field. I’m saying, absolutely, we don’t have to continue to lose 505 billion dollars as a trade deficit for the privilege of dealing with China.
The NYT editorial board has released audio of the relevant portion of their interview, and you can listen to it for yourself here. If you want a transcript, Erik Wemple at the WaPo has one here.
It seems pretty clear, contra Wemple and Cavuto, that Trump is not calling for a 45% tariff specifically, he’s saying that this is basically what he figures that it would take to even out the playing field in terms of China’s devaluation of their currency. Here’s what he said at the very end of this audio clip:
I would do a tax. And let me tell you what the tax should be? The tax should be 45 percent. That would be a tax that would be an equivalent to some of the kind of devaluations that they’ve done. They cannot believe that we haven’t done this yet.
In other words, while Trump did utter the 45% figure, he seemed to be clearly using it as an example of how he would respond to a given value of Chinese currency devaluation. He did not claim it as an ironclad rule that should be used against China per se.
Furthermore, the NYT audio cuts off immediately after this point, even though it seems clear from listening to it that Trump was right in the middle of a point. I would be willing to bet that further remarks show that he characterized his position, as he described it to Cavuto, exactly accurately.
Now, I am not taking any kind of position as to whether Trump’s position is correct as a policy matter, and I’m generally leery of all forms of economic protectionism. But I do think it’s fair to say that the NYT (and Cavuto, with his question) unfairly characterized what Trump’s position is. I agree that if you read the transcript, you get a sense of how frustrating it must be for an editorial board to nail Trump down on a position. But even though they are correct that Trump used the words “45 per cent tax,” that seems clearly to be a hypothetical figure used for the purposes of illustration than an actual policy position.