President Donald J. Trump is not above contradiction. According to an interview last Thursday with CNBC, the protectionist hawk expressed interest in re-entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement - with the caveat that it must be favorable to the United States.
“I would do TPP if we were able to make a substantially better deal,” the president said, with the United States almost certainly past the deadline for a renegotiated entry. “The deal was terrible, the way it was structured was terrible. If we did a substantially better deal, I would be open to TPP.”
This soft-spoken — be it grammatically flawed — rhetoric is a much different approach than the Republican president has used in the past. The Hill reports several times when, as candidate Trump, the man railed against the trade deal for being “pushed by special interests who want to rape our country.” His fair-trade rhetoric became a signature of his 2016 presidential campaign, particularly against his Democratic rival in Hillary Clinton — who previously pushed TPP over 45 times as the former secretary of state, calling it the quote “gold standard of trade agreements.”
This is the first time Trump has expressed any interest in renegotiations regarding TPP. One of the administration’s often touted achievements — by the president and his supporters alike —was Trump’s first-day complete withdrawal from the TPP trade deal.
By expressing interest in any renegotiation, it could mark another 180 on his promise to remain protectionist for the American workforce. At the time of the withdrawal, Trump even declared leaving the TPP as a “great thing for the American worker.” To consider rejoining the trade deal will only hurt his appeal among that struggling demographic.
It wasn’t that long ago that Trump voters were exposed to the facade of Trump and “fair trade.” On TrigTent, we covered the story of the manufacturing giant Carrier and their workers who specifically supported him for his bold stance on trade.
Shortly after his presidential victory, then-President-elect Trump talked a big game regarding a “tremendous tax incentive deal” he negotiated with the company, making a song and dance of 700 jobs “saved” from moving away from their Indianapolis plant.
This, ultimately, was seen an “extravagant con job,” as described by Trump’s fierce critic and former president of United Steelworkers 1999, Chuck Jones.
In July 2017, that same plant fired 300 workers and shipped their jobs to Mexico. Then, just last week, the plant fired 200 more workers — many of whom feel “betrayed” by the broken promises of the president.
“I voted for Trump,” said former Carrier worker Duane Oreskovic, chuckling over drinks. “Financially, I thought he’s a genius. I said, ‘Well, America’s in debt; maybe he can do something and turn the economy around.’ Obviously, it’s not looking that way. Mr. Trump didn’t do his research and made himself look silly in front of the nation when these layoffs and early retirements began.”
When asked about Vermont’s Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s 2016 Democratic challenger who resonated among voters with similar rhetoric on fair-trade, Oreskovic reportedly sighed. “In retrospect, I would have voted for him if I could do it again.”
Sanders, who announced he might again run in 2020, is currently considered one of the favorites to take on the president, according to new Democracy Corps and CNN polls. Such a candidacy may prove a difficult challenge for the president when it comes to his record on trade.
Sanders previously proposed the “Outsourcing Prevention Act,” legislation which aimed to prevent companies like Carrier from moving to foreign countries through the withholding of federal contracts, tax breaks, loans or grants from corporations that move more than 50 jobs overseas, according to The Hill. Such legislation wasn’t even considered by the president.
There’s also the matter of TPP and NAFTA, which Sanders vowed to withdraw from completely. Trump, amid NAFTA renegotiations — already quite the goalpost move from total withdrawal, was caught in the media crossfire for proposed NAFTA provisions echoing TPP.
From The Nation, journalist David Dayen explains that under the proposed provisions investors would still have that ability to settle cases through the controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system, a secret extra-judicial court that gives corporations financial compensation for perceived lost profits as a result of government regulations that run counter to trade agreements.
How that’s not considered a form of fascism — as described by Mussolini himself, “the merger of state and corporate power” — I can’t say.
The president will now have to work overtime to prevent attacks from both the progressive/liberal left and the nationalist right. If Breitbart is already calling the president “amnesty Don,” following his negotiations with Democrats over the path to citizenship for dreamers, how long before the claims of “globalist shill Don” start to land too?