Americans like free trade. Trump and Biden don't.
Biden's own party faithful are even more positive about trade, with 82% of Democrats taking that view. But Biden is also at risk of turning off non-Democrats: 78% of Republicans and 76% of independents are pro-trade.
If Trump thinks the issue is good for him, he might want to reconsider. This issue is another confirmation that everything he touches turns to lead. The biggest jump in public support for expanded trade has been in the past four years. The more he tries to block international commerce, the better it looks.
Yet Biden is passing up the opportunity to capitalize on the trend. He seems to be captive to the anti-trade faction of his party, which is not at all representative of Democrats or the electorate.
There are three apparent explanations for Biden's strange stance. First, he may figure that anyone who strongly favors free trade will vote against Trump regardless. Second, Biden fears alienating white working-class voters, who helped deliver Trump's narrow victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Most important, however, is a phenomenon long noted by economists: The benefits of protection are concentrated and visible, while the costs are neither. If Trump saves (or claims to save) a factory by shutting out imports, the workers there will pay close attention, but most other people won't notice the negative effects.
In the past, presidents generally understood that while there could be political risks in foster free trade, the economic payoff was too big to pass up. Whoever wins this election, those days may be gone.
Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate, Inc.