A Friday piece in Politico Magazine warns that a Hillary Clinton “fumble on trade” could give Donald Trump wins in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan in a general election contest.
In a piece entitled, “How Hillary Loses,” David S. Bernstein writes that the new polls showing Trump ahead of Clinton represent a “terrifying moment for Democrats.”
While Bernstein says one should not read too much into the early polls, he argues that the polling numbers reveal that “there is now a clear path for her to lose” the election.
In particular, Bernstein explains that trade could win Trump Ohio, Wisconsin, and maybe Michigan. Bernstein’s warning in Politico echoes earlier concerns published by the liberal, anti-Trump Huffington Post, which similarly outlined how Trump’s position on trade could deliver him to victory against Clinton.
As soon as the votes were tallied in 2012, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO and Mary Kay Henry of SEIU were claiming unions had delivered Obama’s victory. They argued, with justification, that Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada got into the blue column because of a massive turnout effort from labor. But earlier this year, both Trumka and Henry expressed concerns that Trump could flip that script.
“Our members are responding to Trump’s message,” Henry said in one interview. “Donald Trump is tapping into the very real and very understandable anger of working people,” Trumka said in a speech.
It’s not just that these workers are drawn to the raw emotion of Trump’s “you’ve been screwed” rhetoric. Polls show that union households tend to oppose free trade quite strongly. Sanders has made free trade a centerpiece of his primary campaign against Clinton. Trump, hoping to woo Sanders voters, frequently praises his position on that issue.
Union voters largely agree with Trump that trade deals—including those negotiated by Democratic Presidents Obama and Bill Clinton—have taken their jobs away. Hillary Clinton has yet to counter this attack in any meaningful way. Her history on trade has been careful and political, which has left her struggling to articulate a strong argument against Sanders, let alone Trump.
While the Politico piece is overly generous on Clinton’s record on trade, a more careful review of Clinton’s record shows that not only has she been hesitant to protect American workers, but she has reflexively supported a trade agenda that would send the jobs of American workers overseas.
Indeed, in recent weeks Trump has hammered Bill Clinton for signing NAFTA and negotiating China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The United States lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs in the NAFTA-WTO era– i.e., the years following NAFTA’s enactment and China’s subsequent entrance in the World Trade Organization in 2001. Hillary Clinton was an early proponent of NAFTA.
Hillary Clinton also aggressively promoted the U.S. trade pact with South Korea, which was fraudulently billed to the American people as a deal which would dramatically boost American exports to South Korea. However, in the three years following the deal’s enactment, our trade deficit with South Korea had nearly doubled as U.S. exports to South Korea barely budged, while imports had exploded. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in the three years following the deal’s enactment, the growing goods trade deficits with Korea eliminated more than 75,000 jobs.
Clinton also supported the Colombian free trade agreement. In his book Clinton Cash, Peter Schweizer follows the trail of money and exposes Clinton’s ties to a major Clinton Foundation donor who supported the trade pact.
Most notably, Clinton played a major role in promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In 2012, Clinton said that TPP “set the gold standard in trade agreements”–a declaration that her opponent Bernie Sanders frequently highlights to Democratic primary voters. In 2012, Clinton told the Chamber of Commerce that she was “hoping we can finalize the [TPP] agreement this year … and then watch it take off.”
Clinton’s decision to promote the TPP demonstrates her underlying support for the international structures that underpin trade globalism. In other words, a politician can look at the text of the final product of a trade deal and say that she would like to see tweaks to certain provisions of the deal; however, someone who fundamentally opposes the idea of binding the nation to an international commission would not be able to support the TPP in any form—a point that was raised by Sen. Sessions in his 2016 candidates questionnaire, which received response from only one presidential candidate.
Clinton’s aggressive boosting of the TPP illustrates her support for international governing structures, in which foreign countries are given equal weight to determining aspects of U.S. economic policy and decision making. As Sessions has pointed out, under the global governing commission established by the TPP–which Sessions describes as a “Pacific Union” akin to the European Union— “the Sultan of Brunei would have an equal vote to that of the United States.”
Bernstein continues to explain how working-class voters’ opposition to Clinton’s trade agenda could hurt her in the general election:
It’s not hard to see how quickly this could start costing her Electoral College votes in the Rust Belt, where Trump hopes to improve on past Republican performance. … In Ohio, for example, 22 percent of 2012 voters came from union households, and 60 percent of them voted for Obama. In Wisconsin, a similar share of the electorate voted 2-to-1 for Obama over Romney. In 2016, both states went for Sanders over Clinton in their primaries. In Pennsylvania, where Trump is planning a major effort, union households provided Obama more than half his net margin.
Yet beyond just union voters, polling data suggests that this issue will win Trump support amongst broad swaths of the American electorate–as he saw during the Republican primary.
Indeed, as Breitbart News reported two weeks prior to Indiana’s primary contest in which Trump knocked out his remaining Republican primary opponents, trade was a central issue to that race.
Polling data shows that Republican voters are the group most skeptical of trade globalism–a fact that has gone unrecognized by Party leaders, as well as professional Republicans in the #NeverTrump movement.
Pew found that only a vanishing 11 percent of Republican voters believe that so-called “free-trade” will raise wages. By a nearly 5-to-1 margin, Republican voters believe that so-called “free trade” depresses wages, rather than increases wages, and by a greater than 3-to-1 margin, Republican voters believe that “free trade” will kill jobs, not create them.
Yet despite polling data, Republican Party leaders worked tirelessly to give President Obama expanded trade powers. In fact, last year, Paul Ryan co-authored an op-ed with Sen. Ted Cruz promoting both fast track executive authority and the TPP.
Moreover, GOP Party leaders continue to oppose Trump’s trade platform. As The Washington Post has reported, Paul Ryan has indicated he will not include Trump’s trade platform in the House GOP’s 2017 policy agenda. The House Speaker, whose views on foreign trade and foreign migration more closely resemble Clinton’s than Trump’s, has yet to endorse the presumptive GOP nominee.
Similarly, some of the most prominent members of the #NeverTrump movement–such as Jamie Weinstein and Mark Levin–argue that Trump’s plan to reach out to working-class voters on trade will doom conservatism and the nation. In a recent piece, Levin worried aloud about Trump’s efforts to reach out to disaffected Democrats.
Interestingly, Democrats have echoed Levin’s fears; they are concerned that Trump’s nationalist position on trade will appeal to the working-class voters with whom Romney and Ryan were never able to connect.