Trouble for the TPP: Business groups’ desperate PR campaign signals possible failure for trade deal

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[David Dayen| August 2, 2016 | Salon]

Here’s one of the best indicators that Congress won’t approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership: business groups are running a public campaign in support of it. I know that sounds like a paradox, but if the image of the TPP weren’t so tattered, there would be no need for such an overt PR campaign.

And yet, Trade Benefits America, a coalition of business groups, has put millions of dollars into influencing lawmakers of both parties to support the 12-nation agreement, specifically in the lame duck session of Congress after the elections. They’re ginning up support by having constituents write letters, by flooding town halls and political events, and even running ads in key House and Senate races, making trade an issue in the elections.

This shouldn’t be such a hard sell. The groups represent the leading fundraisers for many members of Congress. The strategy to pass the TPP in the lame duck, at the furthest possible point from any local accountability for the vote, should appeal to politicians. So why would you need a public advocacy campaign?

The answer is that the trade consensus is deader than it has been in the past twenty years. All the energy on this issue is with those who blame bad trade deals for the demise of U.S. manufacturing, the rise of multinational corporate influence, and the loss of good-paying American jobs. That’s from the right, where Donald Trump has made trade a cornerstone of his campaign, and from the left, where Bernie Sanders and his supporters forced trade to the top of the issue agenda.

No issue galvanized dissent at the Democratic National Convention like TPP. And supporters of the trade deal had to watch in vain as it racked up loss after loss throughout the week.

Tim Kaine, who supported the “fast track” bill that set the stage for TPP approval, had to disavow the agreement as a condition for getting onto the Clinton ticket. Bernie Sanders threw in an ad-libbed line in his convention speech about the TPP not getting a vote in the lame duck, and it garnered more applause than practically anything else in the four days in Philadelphia. Anti-TPP signs and chants were ubiquitous throughout the DNC; when asked about their persistence, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver quipped on the convention floor, “This is an anti-TPP party. The Secretary (Clinton) is against TPP. What’s the problem?” Virginia Governor and longtime Clinton friend Terry McAuliffe was pummeled by his own allies after telling reporters that Hillary would eventually support TPP with tweaks.

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