JANESVILLE, Wisconsin — House Speaker Paul Ryan survived his primary, but his challenger Republican businessman Paul Nehlen did enough damage to him to claim one of the biggest feathers in his cap politics has to offer: He laid waste to the 5,500-plus-page-long Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The TPP is the biggest piece of the Obamatrade agenda that Ryan has championed throughout his congressional career: A Pacific Rim trade pact with 12 nations including the U.S. Those nations include Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Peru, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
After nationalist populists led by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) killed the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill—thereby ending so-called “comprehensive immigration reform,” at least until the next president takes office—the TPP was supposed to be the crown jewel of President Barack Obama’s second term agenda. Now, thanks to those same nationalist populists led by that same senator, Sessions, the TPP is officially dead until at least the next administration. And it’s Paul Nehlen, a previously little-known vice president for a water filtration company, inspired by 2016 GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who decided to run for office against the sitting Speaker of the House, who put the final nail in the TPP’s coffin—at least for now.
The trade deal has come under enormous pressure from both the right and the left, with Sessions and Trump dissecting it for the American people from a conservative point of view while Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont ripped it to shreds for those on the progressive left. In both parties, rebellions thanks in large part to the TPP have dominated the 2016 presidential race and all political discussion throughout the year. And it caught Ryan and his team completely by surprise.
In a lengthy more-than-hour-long conversation with one of the now-Speaker’s aides before Ryan decided to run amongst his colleagues for the highest office in the House of Representatives, putting him third in the line of succession to the presidency, a Ryan aide told Breitbart News that the establishment coalition in GOP circles in Washington saw everything else coming. They understood Republican voters would rebel against Ryan’s and some of his colleagues’ efforts to push amnesty. They got it that the lowly GOP voters would hate Ryan and his allies for what they did by funding the Obama agenda, and that a lackadaisical approach to major national issues was upsetting to the grassroots. The one thing they didn’t see coming—and in large part, one of the only reasons why this Ryan aide wanted to meet—was GOP base opposition to the establishment’s trade agenda.
Ryan would go on to complete his ultimate lie to the American people and his Republican colleagues by running for Speaker of the House after saying over and over again he wouldn’t do so, and then claiming he wouldn’t do so without an official endorsement from the House Freedom Caucus. Ryan, of course, never got such an official endorsement from the Freedom Caucus despite support among some of its members but ran for Speaker successfully anyway—meaning he built his ascension to the speakership on a lie. That contentious relationship is now coming to bear as Ryan heads back to Washington riding high, at least for now. The Speaker broke his promise to conservatives to undo his predecessor John Boehner’s retaliation against conservatives like Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), which led to Huelskamp’s primary loss and now is putting fire on Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) in his forthcoming primary. Ryan’s already frayed relationship with House conservatives is getting harsher as legislative battles like the next spending bill—a deadline for which comes up on Sept. 30—loom. Ryan will personally own the entire Obama agenda if he funds it all, which he is expected to do, and conservatives will surely start standing up—informing the public of Ryan’s complete capitulation to Obama’s agenda.
And while Ryan would go on to rise to power in this way—still the public face and champion of the Obamatrade agenda—Trump would go to the American people to win a historic Republican primary to become the first major party’s presidential nominee since Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 to have never held elected office before by campaigning against that very same agenda.
Meanwhile, on the left, Sanders nearly toppled now-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by campaigning against her support for the TPP—which she has since flip-flopped on despite having backed it more than 40 times in public—and maybe would have if not for insiders and political operatives at the Democratic National Committee tanking his campaign by putting their thumb on the scale for Clinton as evidenced by leaked emails published by WikiLeaks on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.
That national battle, as Trump first praised Nehlen then eventually endorsed Ryan in this primary’s last tumultuous week, literally came knocking on Ryan’s doorstep in his hometown here thanks to Nehlen’s work. And Ryan buckled. After spending more than a year praising the TPP, and pushing through the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) package needed to grease the skids for it last year, Ryan came out against the TPP because of this race.
Thanks to Nehlen’s bare-knuckle campaign against Ryan, the sitting Speaker of the House was forced to visit two local factories and first admit there is a globalization problem that is costing American jobs—like those in his district—to be shipped overseas. Ryan’s solution was typical GOP establishment talking points like wanting to use tax reform and regulation rollbacks to stop the job drain, but the fact he admitted there’s a problem that needs to be solved is astounding in and of itself.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, thanks to Nehlen’s campaigning Ryan said he opposed the TPP in its current form.
Throughout the course of Nehlen’s unsuccessful bid to unseat Ryan—not only just a previous supporter of the Obamatrade agenda, but its chief champion in the halls of power in Congress and the top Republican advocate for it—he hammered the TPP trade deal over and over again. Ryan has never faced a real primary challenge since his ascension to Washington nearly two decades ago—or for that matter any real challenge at all for his congressional district—until Nehlen’s campaign against him. Nehlen ran a ground-up, grassroots campaign that stayed on message and focused on Ryan’s support for globalization, and contrasted that with his—and Trump’s—support for a more nationalistic system of governance.
Ryan told local voters he thinks parts of it need to be renegotiated before Congress would vote on it. Ryan promised there would be no vote on the trade pact without such changes, saying there is not enough support for it among his colleagues—and that of course he doesn’t support it without renegotiations. Without getting too far into the weeds on process, it is impossible for Obama to renegotiate any of the TPP and then re-present it to Congress in time for approval before he leaves office. Procedurally speaking, the TPP is dead and buried—and can’t be brought back to life until the next administration.
That means that the voters of the country will get a referendum vote when it comes to this trade agenda: A vote for Donald Trump for president would mean a complete evisceration of the TPP and an entirely new approach to trade policy. A vote for Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, would be a vote to repackage and rename the TPP, and ram it through to congressional passage, all the exact same approach we have seen for the last several decades since the rise of the Bushes in the GOP and the Clintons in the Democratic Party.
The voters of the United States of America have Paul Nehlen to thank for this stark choice in November. It would never have gotten to this point with the sitting Speaker of the House—who obviously stands with Obama and Clinton on this trade deal—coming out against the TPP to win reelection without a challenge from Nehlen. Ryan can always flip flop again, but if the voters of the United States—and more particularly Wisconsin’s first congressional district—are to take Ryan at his word, that is where things stand now with regard to the Trans Pacific Partnership.