The GOP’s Growing Rift on Trade

A party that has embraced free trade as a bedrock principle is increasingly divided on that question, particularly in the White House contest.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Las Vegas on Monday.
AP Photo/John Locher
Alex Rogers
Add to Briefcase
Alex Rogers
Dec. 15, 2015, 8:01 p.m.

The Re­pub­lic­an Party has split anew on one of its core ten­ets—free trade—and the ques­tion is how long the war will last.

While the GOP has largely sup­por­ted free trade for over three dec­ades, its top-tier pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates are split on the re­cently-struck Pa­cific trade ac­cord, the most sig­ni­fic­ant in a gen­er­a­tion. And Don­ald Trump, the GOP front-run­ner, has been labeled by The Wall Street Journ­al as po­ten­tially the most pro­tec­tion­ist nom­in­ee since Her­bert Hoover.

The Trumped-up rhet­or­ic on clos­ing down the bor­ders—both to hu­mans and to trade—is so di­vis­ive that it en­dangers a split with­in the party, says Steph­en Moore, a con­ser­vat­ive eco­nom­ist who foun­ded the Com­mit­tee to Un­leash Prosper­ity with Steve For­bes, Larry Kud­low, and Ar­thur Laf­fer. He thinks Trump’s can­did­acy pits a pess­im­ist­ic, “1950s-style” Re­pub­lic­an pop­u­list wing versus an op­tim­ist­ic, free-mar­ket wing of the party.

“Here’s my big worry right now, as you fol­low what’s happened in the last year or so and es­pe­cially in the last six weeks or so,” said Moore in a phone in­ter­view. “I’m very nervous that Re­pub­lic­ans are be­com­ing a kind of ‘close the bor­der’ party—close the bor­der to people, close the bor­der to goods and ser­vices. And that’s bad eco­nom­ics. It’s ter­rible eco­nom­ics. And that’s the wrong dir­ec­tion.

“I worry that the party is go­ing down this Pat Buchanan wing of the party—that’s now the Don­ald Trump wing—is as­cend­ant,” ad­ded Moore. “There’s now be­com­ing a rift with­in the party between the ‘build the wall’ party and the—I think—the party Re­agan [built.]”

More than 30 years ago, Ron­ald Re­agan cam­paigned on a North Amer­ica Free Trade Agree­ment and, when he be­came pres­id­ent, entered the U.S. in­to the first free trade agree­ment with Is­rael. His em­phas­is on ex­pand­ing trade and lower­ing trade bar­ri­ers in an ef­fort to in­crease eco­nom­ic growth and cre­ate bet­ter pay­ing jobs stuck with the es­tab­lish­ment wing of the party. In 2012, the GOP plat­form stated: “A Re­pub­lic­an Pres­id­ent will com­plete ne­go­ti­ations for a Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship to open rap­idly de­vel­op­ing Asi­an mar­kets to U.S. products. Bey­ond that, we en­vi­sion a world­wide mul­ti­lat­er­al agree­ment among na­tions com­mit­ted to the prin­ciples of open mar­kets, what has been called a ‘Re­agan Eco­nom­ic Zone,’ in which free trade will truly be fair trade for all con­cerned.”

Yet of the nine top-tier can­did­ates tak­ing the GOP pres­id­en­tial de­bate stage Tues­day night, at least four op­pose the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship. Con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al for TPP, which was re­cently reached by the U.S. and 11 oth­er coun­tries around the Pa­cific Rim, is un­der severe polit­ic­al pres­sure. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell said Tues­day that he is “dis­ap­poin­ted” but un­de­cided on the agree­ment—and warned Pres­id­ent Obama that vot­ing on his po­ten­tially last leg­acy-de­fin­ing achieve­ment should wait un­til after the 2016 elec­tion.

“I think he ought to take in­to ac­count the ob­vi­ous polit­ics of trade at the mo­ment in our coun­try,” Mc­Con­nell said at a Politico-sponsored break­fast.

The is­sue is blur­ring all kinds of lines. Along with both uni­ons and the “Middle Amer­ic­an Rad­ic­al,” Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz all op­pose the pact.

The vast ma­jor­ity of Demo­crats in Con­gress op­pose the agree­ment, as they think TPP would out­source Amer­ic­an jobs and de­press wages. Re­pub­lic­ans are split. Many are par­tic­u­larly skep­tic­al of this agree­ment be­cause it was ne­go­ti­ated un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has deemed TPP the most pro­gress­ive pact in U.S. his­tory, and are con­cerned it places bur­den­some en­vir­on­ment­al and labor reg­u­la­tions. Mc­Con­nell and the North Car­o­lina GOP con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion have con­cerns about vari­ous to­bacco pro­vi­sions, and some Re­pub­lic­ans, par­tic­u­larly Sen. Or­rin Hatch of Utah, be­lieve the in­tel­lec­tu­al-prop­erty pro­tec­tions for phar­ma­ceut­ic­al com­pan­ies pro­du­cing bio­lo­gic drugs aren’t strong enough.

But oth­er con­ser­vat­ives are keen on lower­ing tar­iffs and tak­ing ad­vant­age of great­er eco­nom­ic trade with the Pa­cific na­tions sur­round­ing China. Grover Nor­quist, the chief of Amer­ic­ans for Tax Re­form, sup­ports the pact, while ac­know­ledging flaws in in­tel­lec­tu­al-prop­erty pro­vi­sions, among oth­ers.

“This is both sound for­eign policy and it’s great eco­nom­ic policy,” Nor­quist told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “It’s 4,000 pages of tax cuts. Tar­iffs … tar­iffs suck. Tar­iffs kill jobs. Tar­iffs slow the eco­nomy. This is good. It’s not everything you wanted—no. But it’s pro­gress to­wards al­most everything you wanted.”

The GOP op­pos­i­tion, in his mind, “has everything to do with who wrote it and not what’s in it.”

Wheth­er this junc­ture sig­ni­fies a great­er surge in the pop­u­list wing of the GOP—or merely meas­ures a passing mo­ment, as oth­ers have be­fore—is up for de­bate.

“There’s a Buchanan wing that’s been anti-trade, anti-im­mig­rant for quite some time, and we’re just see­ing an­oth­er round of that in Cruz and in Trump,” says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the dir­ect­or of do­mest­ic and eco­nom­ic policy for John Mc­Cain’s 2008 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. Holtz-Eakin, who served in George W. Bush’s Coun­cil of Eco­nom­ic Ad­visers, can re­mem­ber the Re­pub­lic­an-led House’s squeak­er vote in 2002 grant­ing the White House en­hanced trade-ne­go­ti­at­ing powers. “Not a new phe­nomen­on. Vis­ible on the cam­paign trail—I don’t dis­agree with that. It’s been around be­fore.”

What We're Following See More »
HOPES TO GET BIPARTISAN BILL EVENTUALLY
Trump: Time to Let Obamacare “Explode”
2 days ago
THE LATEST
NO INDICATION WHEN IT WILL BE REVISITED
At Trump’s Behest, Ryan Pulls Healthcare Bill
2 days ago
THE LATEST

Faced with a choice of Trump's way or the highway, the GOP chose the highway. In the worst possible development for the GOP, Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the healthcare bill from the floor for the second day in a row—even after President Trump demanded an up-or-down vote last night. According to multiple reports, Trump himself called Ryan at about 3 p.m. to tell him to cancel the vote. Trump has since blamed Democrats for the defeat. It's unclear when the legislation will be revisited.

SPOKESWOMAN CALLS IT ROUTINE MEETING
Comey at White House Now
2 days ago
THE LATEST
FROM ROGERS, COMEY
Nunes, Schiff Ask for Closed-Door Testimony on Russia
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said he and ranking Democrat Adam Schiff of California have asked FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers to testify behind closed doors about the committee's ongoing investigation into alleged ties between the Trump administration and Russia." He also said former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort will also testify.

Source:
BRIEFING TRUMP ON HEALTHCARE VOTE
Paul Ryan en Route to White House
2 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login