During Monday night’s first presidential debate at Hofstra University, Donald Trump put Hillary Clinton on the defensive over the critical issue of international trade — eventually forcing Clinton to actually defend NAFTA and her husband’s globalist trade policies of the 1990s.
At one point, Clinton appeared desperate to move on from the issue of trade, which has been a point of vulnerability for her, declaring, “Let’s not assume that trade is the only challenge we have in the economy.”
During the fiery exchange, Trump explained that Clinton has had 30 years to fix the nation’s trade policies:
All you have to do is look at Michigan and look at Ohio and look at all of these places where so many of their jobs and their companies are just leaving. They are gone. And Hillary, I’d just ask you this: you’ve been doing this for 30 years, why are you just thinking about these solutions right now? For 30 years you’ve been doing it and now you are just starting to think of solutions… I will bring back jobs. You can’t bring back jobs.
Clinton replied, “Well, actually, I have thought about this quite a bit… I think my husband did a pretty good job in the 1990s. I think a lot about what worked and how we can make it work again—”
Trump interjected, “He approved NAFTA, which is the single worst trade deal in this country—”
Clinton continued, “—incomes went up for everybody. Manufacturing went up in the 1990s if we’re actually going to look at the facts.”
“Excuse me,” Trump later said. “Your husband signed NAFTA, which was one of the worst things that ever happened.”
Remarkably, Clinton chose to respond by defending NAFTA: “Well, that’s your opinion,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s decision to defend her husband’s trade policies of the 1990s is interesting given the fact that many voters in Clinton’s own party believe these trade policies have not benefited American workers.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since the ratification of NAFTA, Pennsylvania lost 36% of its manufacturing jobs, Ohio lost 34% of its manufacturing jobs, Michigan lost more than a quarter of its manufacturing jobs, and Maine lost 39% of its manufacturing jobs.
A recent POLITICO Pro-Harvard poll found that by a five-to-one margin, Americans believe that trade policies with other countries have lost American jobs — 65% believe our trade policies have lost U.S. jobs versus only 13% who believe our trade policies have created U.S. jobs. By a nearly four-to-one margin, Americans believe our trade policies have lowered rather than raised wages. Only 14% of Americans believe our trade policies have raised U.S. wages.
As Clyde Prestowitz, former counselor to the Secretary of Commerce under President Reagan, has explained, much of the global trade agreements that have come to define our current trade policies began in the 1990s under the Clintons’ auspices.
In the 1990s, international trade morphed into the far broader and more complex phenomenon of globalization,” Prestowitz wrote:
In 1992, the United States, Mexico and Canada essentially extended the 1988 U.S.-Canadian Free Trade Agreement into the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA. … The agreement was essentially for an economic union, looser than but similar to the EU arrangement. Then in 1993, President Clinton hosted the first meeting of the leaders of twenty-one nations of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), who committed to greater economic integration of their nations. Finally in 1994, the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations concluded by turning the GATT into the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Prestowitz has described China’s entrance into the WTO—negotiated by Bill Clinton—as one of “America’s dumbest deals … [that] reduced American influence and power, and constrained its future wealth-creating ability.”
“It really should have been called the World Globalization Organization,” Prestowitz wrote, explaining that Bill Clinton’s trade policies were motivated by his globalist ideology: “[He] embraced the notion that globalization and Americanization are more or less the same thing and saw globalization as the way to make the Chinese more like us.”
During the debate, Trump warned that if Hillary Clinton were elected president, she would continue to expand upon her husband’s legacy on trade by approving the Trans Pacific Partnership. Trump said, “NAFTA is the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere but certainly ever signed in this country and now you want to approve Trans Pacific Partnership. You were totally in favor of it and then you heard how I said how bad it was and if you win, you would approve it and it would be almost as bad as NAFTA.”