Politics, Moderate



Democrats should be shouting Trump's trade failures from the rooftops

Catherine Rampell on

Markets crashing, farmers suffering, allies seething, manufacturing workers fretting about their job security.

These were all foreseeable consequences of President Trump's trade wars, which escalated in the past week after Trump hiked tariffs on Chinese goods ever higher and Beijing announced tit-for-tat retaliatory duties. Such developments reveal the risks of Trump's protectionist instincts, his fundamental misunderstanding of how both trade and trade negotiations work, and his inability to learn the lessons of the trade war that deepened the Great Depression.

All this should be great ammunition for Trump's rivals. Why isn't it being used?

Republicans, of course, are too cowardly to challenge Trump on much of anything. But Democrats, particularly those angling for the presidency, should be shouting from the rooftops. They should be sharing soybean-farmer sob stories and damning stats with any voter still considering following Trump off the protectionist cliff. Especially given academic research finding that "Trump Country" has been hurt most by his trade conflicts.

Instead -- with rare exceptions -- Democrats have been muted or mealy-mouthed in their criticism. Perhaps this is because, when it comes to trade policy, most of them don't have a leg to stand on.

This weekend, when asked what she thought of Trump's trade wars, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Trump "failed to understand that we are stronger when we work with our allies on every issue, China included."


So far, so good. But when pressed, she said she wouldn't have voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement, aligning her with Trump's own negative assessment of the deal.

And if you look back at Harris's record in the Senate, you'll find that she, just like Trump, opposed then-President Barack Obama's strategy to "work with our allies" to keep China in line on trade. That was the 12-country pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Trump pulled us out of with support from other 2020 Democratic candidates, too, including Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, and Democratic leaders such as now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Some Democratic presidential candidates, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have also offered vague statements of displeasure over Trump's trade actions, then suggested Trump's protectionism doesn't go far enough. Diehard protectionist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., endorsed Trump's metal tariffs, even if he thought Canada and the European Union should have been exempted.

Rather than rethinking their protectionist instincts after seeing the consequences of Trump's trade policies, some Democrats have doubled down.


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