Trump is hoping this one big lie will save him in 2020 – but it could be catastrophic for him: columnist
White House photo of President Donald Trump at the National Day of Prayer. (Tia DuFour)

As 2020 approaches, the Trump campaign is gearing up to re-elect the president and team Trump appears to be staking their message on one of the president's biggest lies.

Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Greg Sargent points out that the president is trying to claim a victory on trade -- one that appears to largely be in the president's head.

"President Trump has spent the past 24 hours tweeting manically about trade, repeating the absurd falsehood that China is paying us billions in tariffs" he says. "We keep hearing that this shows Trump 'doesn’t understand' how tariffs work."

Sargent has a better explanation. The president is lying and trying out his re-election campaign strategy.

"But this is better seen as a straight-up, deliberate lie — a lie upon which Trump is staking his reelection," he says.

"A long-term trade war with China now looks plausible. Trump hiked tariffs to 25 percent on $200 billion of Chinese goods on Friday. Monday morning, China announced it will retaliate with new tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods," he continues.

"If this does continue, Trump’s lie about China paying us billions in tariffs will become ever more imperative for him," Sargent says.

"That’s why it’s such a big deal that Fox News’s Chris Wallace debunked this falsehood by getting economic adviser Larry Kudlow to admit that China is not paying the tariffs."

The pitch to American workers is a myth, but possibly an effective one, Sargent says.

"Central to this whole tale has always been the idea that Trump will take back for U.S. workers what this alliance of elites and foreign workers is stealing from them — he will take back what is rightfully theirs," he writes.

"Given all this, failure on China could be catastrophic for Trump. So he’s just swapping in a new story: He’s making China pay restitution to Americans it has ripped off for so long by forcing it to “pay” us in tariffs."