Business Review Board / Jun. 29, 2016

Trump's Smart Political Play on Trade

He's angling for workers who see the damage of the Obama-Clinton economy.

The Republican Party has officially advocated free trade for years, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and, albeit while less unified, the current Trans-Pacific Partnership. That’s why it was rather jarring to see the party’s presumptive nominee throw that out the window in a major speech Tuesday. Donald Trump promised to exit NAFTA if it’s not renegotiated, and he likewise said he’d kill the TPP.

Trump’s position isn’t new and it isn’t surprising, especially given that Republican voters aren’t so keen on what free trade deals have done (real and perceived) to American manufacturing and jobs. The American middle class feels the squeeze, sees the shuttered factories and can’t find anything at Walmart made in America. Thus Trump’s position really resonates, whereas the traditional party position just seems out of touch — like everything else from the Beltway. “On trade, on immigration, on foreign policy, we are going to put America first again,” Trump said. Who could disagree with that?

Trump’s real political strategy is simple. Hillary Clinton once called the TPP “the gold standard” for trade deals. Now she opposes it. And while union bosses fell into line behind Clinton, her policies are an extension of Barack Obama’s, and those policies hurt American workers. So not only has Trump neutralized another issue Clinton might have used to attack him, he’s appealing across party lines in hopes of bringing in blue-collar workers to the GOP tent come November.

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