by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Conservatives who gave in to an uncharacteristic bout of unsecured optimism quickly were reacquainted with our customary disappointment when President Trump, despite whispers to the contrary, decided to stand firm on his anti-trade agenda. …
… [T]he question of whether Republicans should be the free-trade party that they long have been or whether they should embrace a Wallace-Buchanan-Perot-Trump model of populist neo-mercantilism is one that deserves some attention. And not only because of the importance of the issue itself, but also because of what their attitude toward trade says about Republicans’ commitment to sustaining and cultivating responsible American leadership in world affairs. The United States can beat retreat, but the world is still going to be there.
Free trade is an excellent and fruitful policy, and it will remain one even if Republicans drop it and Democrats pick it up, as they very well might. Republicans should think on that possibility, too, given that Democrats have of late shown themselves marginally more interested in free trade than Republicans have.
Farm states and rural communities depend on free trade, and the Republican party depends on those communities. Maybe they think they can make up the difference with votes culled from Philadelphia shipyards, but that does not seem very likely.
There are many policies and fixations that the Republican party would do well to let go of. The commitment to free trade is not one of them.