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PolitiFact FL: Trump says DeSantis opposed China tariffs, farmer bailout. The evidence isn't there

A man speaks behind a podium with a sign.
Sue Ogrocki
Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Saturday, July 29, 2023, in Erie, Pa.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

In campaign stops across the country, former President Donald Trump has painted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a foe of farmers and a friend of China.

"We gave our farmers $28 billion right out of those tariffs that China was paying," Trump said July 29 in Erie, Pennsylvania. "Ron DeSanctimonious opposed my China tariffs, and he heartlessly opposed the $28 billion of money that was sent right into the pockets of our great farmers because of the Chinese abuse." (Trump has often referred to DeSantis as "DeSanctis" or "DeSanctimonious" as they compete for the GOP presidential nomination.)

But Trump’s claims about DeSantis’ record on the tariffs and subsequent farmer relief are wrong in several ways. The public record shows less "heartless" opposition and more half-hearted caution.

PolitiFact reached out to Trump’s campaign for evidence and did not hear back by publication.

Rundown on the trade war and bailout

In summer 2018, then-President Trump imposed tariffs on an array of Chinese goods. Think of a tariff as a government tax typically imposed on imports.

Trump wanted to reduce U.S. reliance on Chinese imports and narrow the trade deficit. His administration imposed tariffs on more than $300 billion of Chinese goods. As Trump said China would feel the burden, multiple studies, reports and economists found that the burden fell on American consumers and importers, which was expected.

"Despite what the President says, (a tariff) is almost always paid directly by the importer (usually a domestic firm), and never by the exporting country," Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Center, wrote in 2018. "Thus, if the US imposes a tariff on Chinese televisions, the duty is paid to the US Customs and Border Protection Service at the border by a US broker representing a US importer, say, Costco. The Chinese government pays nothing."

A U.S. International Trade Commission review found the tariffs were paid primarily by U.S. importers while prices for Chinese exporters were "largely unaffected."

Some importers may choose to keep prices stable if a tariff is small, but often pass them onto the consumer if the tariff is high, tax experts have told us.

After Trump’s tariffs, importers passed on most or all of the costs to consumers or producers who use Chinese materials in their products.

Farmers took a hard hit in 2018 and 2019 during the trade war. China cut purchases of U.S. agricultural products and imposed import taxes on U.S. commodities such as soybeans.

The Trump administration announced it would send $28 billion to farmers to offset the losses, but it ended up providing about $23 billion.

So where was DeSantis in all of this?

DeSantis’ position on tariffs, farm relief

DeSantis was a member of Congress running for Florida governor — with Trump’s endorsement — during Trump’s trade war. We reviewed interviews and speeches of DeSantis talking about the tariffs in 2018.

At worst, he sounded a bit wary of tariffs. But there were other times he gave Trump high marks, and had been portrayed in the news as being more favorable to Trump’s tariffs than some other Republicans.

Feared retaliation: In a March 2018 Fox News interview, DeSantis approved of Trump confronting China but expressed concern about retaliation against farmers and other U.S. producers:

"I think he’s right to identify the problems with China, people have been talking about that for years. Their behavior, in many ways, has gotten worse," DeSantis said. "I think the issue is how are you going to confront China on these things, and when you’re using, relying primarily on tariffs, I just think the fear is that the retaliation against U.S., our farmers and other industries that we need to do well, could bear the brunt of that. And so I think that’s the concern."

DeSantis added that he thought the U.S. was "doing really well" with the Trump presidency and tax reform, but said he feared "this could throw some sand in the gears on some of this stuff."

Before closing, he ended on a high note, calling China’s behavior "really corrosive to a free-trade order."

"Trump’s the guy that maybe will deliver," DeSantis said.

Not a tariffs fan: In a June 2018 Fox Business interview, DeSantis said he "isn’t somebody" who advocates for tariffs and that he thought Trump was floating them as a negotiation tactic.

"I think he is using this as part of the art of the deal to try to extract concessions, and so I’ll give him runway to do that. I don’t want to undercut him in the negotiation," DeSantis said. He said his goal, and he believed Trump’s goal, was to have American export barriers reduced. "If he achieves that then I think it will be good, and if he doesn’t then I think you’ll see some economic consequences."

Give Trump ‘a chance.’ In a June 2018 primary gubernatorial debate, DeSantis appeared to support Trump’s approach and again highlighted Trump’s 1987 book "The Art of the Deal."

"He knows how to negotiate, and I’ve talked to him about this, he does not want to see an end state where we have high tariffs across the board," DeSantis said. Trump saw unfair trade practices by other countries and is "trying to get concessions on behalf of the American people, and I think we should give him the chance to do his thing. He’s a master negotiator."

Not a fan of farm subsidies in general. When asked in a July 2018 Fox Business interview whether he disagreed with Trump on any issue, DeSantis responded that he didn’t agree with anyone "on everything 100% of the time" but said he wasn’t "a fan of farm subsidies. To throw billions of dollars in farm subsidies, I want to get away from doing that."

It’s unclear whether DeSantis was talking about the $23 billion farm bailout package, or the billions in farm subsidies appropriated by Congress each year. When the host asked whether he opposed Trump’s tariffs, DeSantis didn’t mention the farm package and expressed cautious optimism:

"I’ve been surprised at some of the success he’s gotten. I typically have not been somebody that has supported tariffs, and I don't think that’s the end state that you want, but I think he’s leveraged that like he did with the European Union to get concessions.

"So, if that's what he’s able to do, then that's probably going to benefit a lot of folks. If the concessions aren't there, then I think you're going to be in a situation where you’re going to have to change course. But using it to negotiate, it was not something that a lot of us have thought about previously. He really believes in doing it and I think that he’s been able to get some concessions, so we’ll see how it goes going forward."

We couldn’t find any evidence that DeSantis publicly opposed or tried to block the $23 billion farm bailout. DeSantis resigned from Congress in September 2018, during his gubernatorial campaign and three months before the vote on the farm bill, which included relief for farmers and other initiatives.

In a June interview on Fox News, host Kayleigh McEnany asked DeSantis whether he’d be willing to use tariffs to get China to the negotiating table. "Yeah, I would," DeSantis replied.

Our ruling

Trump claimed DeSantis was against his tariffs on China and "heartlessly opposed" $28 billion in aid to farmers paid by China via the tariffs.

Trump is wrong on multiple counts. DeSantis expressed a cautious position on tariffs. His view was that tariffs are risky, but Trump could be trusted to negotiate for a better deal for the U.S. We found no evidence that he publicly opposed the aid to farmers.

The amount paid out to farmers was also $23 billion, and none of that money came from China.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in Florida reporting on misinformation with a focus on abortion and public health.