When the Dust Settles: A Bipartisan Way Forward on Trade

November 09, 2016

by Michael Stumo

The Donald Trump win was a shock to Clinton supporters and apparently a shock to Trump’s own aides. What does his win mean for trade policy and the partisan positioning? 

Trump and Democrats will not agree on the Supreme Court and many other issues.  We are in for a wild ride. But they can and should agree on big changes to our destructive trade policy.  The post World War II trading system has long been agreed upon by the elites in both parties.  That system has failed. Its victims, aka voters, have made that clear.  

After the GOP’s successful 2014 election cycle, the media asserted that more gridlock should be expected, but trade is an area where President Obama, Senator McConnell and Speaker Boehner can agree.  True as far as it went, but voters forced a surprising number of GOP members to oppose Fast Track trade authority in May and June 2015.

The economic carpet bombing of our country by dumb trade deals is producing more and more losers that understand what happened, from Carlsbad, California to Akron, Ohio to Rome, New York.  Bernie outperformed expectations, primarily through working class voter support.  Trump also outperformed expectations with the working class vote.  He outperformed Mitt Romney by far.  He won Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina... swing states that chose Obama in the past.

Hillary Clinton assembled a coalition of college educated, racial/ethnic/gender minorities and women while focusing most of her thunder on social justice issues.  Right up to the end, most projected she would win.  She did not.  

The working class voters who used to be Democrats have continued moving to the Republican party while the college educated voters moved more to Democrats. In an about face, GOP base is more anti-trade agreement now than the Dem base.

Paul Ryan needs to change his pro-trade deal stance to continue as a leader of his party.  Democrats need to resist the urge to retreat on trade for fear of helping advance a Trump goal.  Would Democrats change on strengthening Social Security if Trump decides to strengthen the program? Of course not.

The working class voters are loyal to their own economic security but not to a party. Dems should work to get them back. Republicans should work to keep them. Devising a post, post World War II trade system to balance trade strategically should be important to both parties.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) has led the trade fight for Democrats as ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee.  His top issues have included currency manipulation, unequal market access, enforcement, China’s trade cheating and state owned enterprises as well as labor and environmental standards. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has also led with a focus upon the trade deficit, as has the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Donald Trump’s Seven Point Plan on trade similarly focuses upon currency manipulation, China cheating, enforcement and unequal trade.  He also wants to renegotiate NAFTA, long a target of Democratic scorn.  Trump's stated vision is to "negotiate fair trade deals that create American jobs, increase American wages, and reduce America's trade deficit."

It will be important to get the details right.  Strategically balancing trade should be a priority and has bipartisan support.  We at CPA are used to forging agreement across party lines.  We have developed the goals for a new 21st Century Trade Policy and a US Competitiveness Strategy. These goals have passed muster economically and among conservatives and progressives.

After the GOP is done celebrating, and after the Dems begin breathing again, voters need to make sure they get to work on a new trade strategy that grows our economy rather than destroys it. Broadly shared prosperity is the goal. We need to produce more of what we consume to achieve it.

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