Trump made a big deal about the stock market last year. This year he is more focused on delivering to his base

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump has appeared to focus less on stock markets as he pursues tariffs on China.
  • The trade actions have contributed to struggles in the stock market.
  • Punishing what he calls unfair trade practices was a top campaign priority for Trump.
President Donald Trump
Yuri Gripas | Reuters

President Donald Trump spent much of 2017 cheering on the stock market. That's not the case this year.

Instead, Trump has appeared to focus less on appeasing investors in the second year of his presidency. His actions, like putting stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and proposing tariffs on Chinese technology, have contributed to stock market volatility and prompted criticism from free trade Republicans and business groups alike.

For now, it looks like he is putting more emphasis on trying to follow through on pledges that helped to propel him to the White House.

This week, a White House official who declined to be named told CNBC that the administration acknowledges Trump's trade moves hit the stock market. But the official called the trade actions a "longer-term thing" and said Trump wants to follow through on a key campaign promise. The White House aims to hold China accountable for alleged trade abuses.

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Still, the Trump administration appears aware of stock market damage. On Wednesday morning, major U.S. stock indexes dove amid escalating trade actions between the U.S. and China. Trump's chief economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, then said the president may not impose the tariffs on Beijing, which partly helped stocks recover throughout the day. The market rose again Thursday.

The White House has suggested the proposed actions may only be a negotiating tactic to get Beijing to change its behavior. Asked Thursday if Trump would accept short-term stock market or economic harm due to the tariffs, Kudlow said that "is not [Trump's] intention."

"The damage to our economy comes from China's restrictive practices," he said.

Trump's actions, and concerns that tariffs could damage the global economy, have partly held down stock markets this year. After equities roared in 2017, the Dow Jones industrial average and have fallen 1.8 percent and 1 percent, respectively, so far this year.

The president has not tweeted about the market since February, after promoting it as evidence of his success in numerous public appearances and tweets last year. On Wednesday, Kudlow called the stock market reaction to the tariffs "mild," and then on Thursday he said he expects the U.S. will eventually reach a trade deal with China.

Trump could have election season in mind as he has pursues policies related to his 2016 campaign promises. Aside from tariffs, the president has recently focused on pledges to crack down on immigration. On Wednesday, the administration announced he planned to deploy National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico.

Many Republicans could need a boost as the GOP tries to hold on to majorities in both chambers of Congress. Democrats, who have been energized by opposition to Trump, aim to win 24 seats to take a majority in the House.

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