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Former President Donald Trump misrepresented Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ position. DeSantis was lukewarm about the tariffs Trump imposed on China but not outright opposed.
DeSantis said he was against farm subsidies in at least one interview, but could have been referring to the billions in subsidies that Congress provides to the industry each year. We found no evidence of him opposing or trying to block the farm relief package.
China did not pay the U.S. billions in tariffs, and none of the farmer relief money was paid by China, as Trump said. American importers foot the bill.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
C-SPAN, Donald Trump speech in Erie, PA, July 29, 2023
PolitiFact, Who pays for US tariffs on Chinese goods? You do, May 14, 2019
Tax Policy Center, What Is A Tariff And Who Pays It?, Sept. 25, 2018.
United States International Trade Commission, Economic Impact of Section 232 and 301 Tariffs on U.S. Industries, January 2022
TaxFoundation.org, Tracking the Economic Impact of U.S. Tariffs and Retaliatory Actions, July 7 2023
The New York Times, American Consumers, Not China, Are Paying for Trump’s Tariffs, Jan. 6, 2020.
National Bureau of Economic Research, THE IMPACT OF THE 2018 TRADE WAR ON U.S. PRICES AND WELFARE, May 2019
NBC News, Fact check: Trump says China is paying for his tariffs. He's wrong., Aug 2, 2019
CFR.org, 92 Percent of Trump’s China Tariff Proceeds Has Gone to Bail Out Angry Farmers, Oct. 28, 2020
WayBack Machine, DeSantis Fox News interview, March 23, 2018
Facebook, DeSantis Fox Business interview, June 25, 2018
YouTube, Fox News' Florida GOP gubernatorial primary debate, June 28, 2018
Fox Business, DeSantis interview, July 31, 2018
YouTube, Ron DeSantis: This is a hoax, June 21, 2023
Environmental Working Group, Nearly 20,000 farmers received farm subsidies for 37 consecutive years, Feb. 14, 2023
Email interview, Ron DeSantis presidential campaign, August 3, 2023
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