Trump could tariff foreign oil. That won’t end the oil crisis

FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, file photo, a flame burns at the Shell Deer Park oil refinery in Deer Park, Texas. Oil prices are plunging Sunday, March 8, 2020, amid worries that an OPEC dispute will lead a virus-weakened economy to be awash in an oversupply of crude. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, file photo, a flame burns at the Shell Deer Park oil refinery in Deer Park, Texas. Oil prices are plunging Sunday, March 8, 2020, amid worries that an OPEC dispute will lead a virus-weakened economy to be awash in an oversupply of crude. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

(CNN) – The drama playing out in the oil market is not short on oversized characters. But Vladimir Putin and MBS could soon have to make room for a new player: Tariff Man.

President Donald Trump, who proudly calls himself Tariff Man, is threatening to use his favorite economic weapon to protect America's beleaguered oil industry from aggression by Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Those two nations are engaged in an epic price war that, along with an historic collapse in demand from the coronavirus pandemic, has helped send crude crashing to 18-year lows. Dozens of US oil companies are now facing bankruptcy.

"We want to save a great industry," Trump said during a press briefing Sunday.

The goal is to force Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to reach a breakthrough at Thursday's highly-anticipated meeting by massively cutting production.

"If they don't get along, I would do that," Trump said. "I would do tariffs, very substantial tariffs."

But that negotiating strategy would likely be ineffective because the United States imports little crude from Saudi Arabia and Russia these days. If anything, it could backfire on US refineries that rely on a healthy dose of foreign crude to go full blast.

Do oil companies even want tariffs? Depends on who you ask