Trump breaks with party on trade, threatens tariffs
Monessen, Pa. — Republican Donald Trump vowed to tear up the nation’s trade deals, threatened new tariffs and called for a new era of economic “Americanism” in a speech that underscored just how far removed he is from typical GOP orthodoxy.
The speech, delivered on a factory floor in western Pennsylvania on Tuesday, outlined Trump’s promise to restore millions of lost factory jobs by backing away from decades of U.S. trade policy. The approach, which represents a significant break from years of Republican Party advocacy for unencumbered trade between nations, drew immediate condemnation from Democrats as well as GOP business leaders, who questioned the impact on the price of consumer goods, as well as the country’s place in the global economy
In his 35-minute speech, Trump directly targeted Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton, blaming her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs. And he threatened to exit the more than 2-decade-old North American Free Trade Agreement and vowed to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations that has yet to take effect.
“This wave of globalization has wiped out totally, totally our middle class,” Trump said, standing in front of pallets of recycled aluminum cans on a factory floor. “It doesn’t have to be this way. We can turn it around, and we can turn it around fast.”
At a rally later Tuesday, Trump declared that TPP had been “done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country.”
In the speech, he pointed to China as a source of many of America’s economic woes, promising to label that country a currency manipulator and slap new tariffs on America’s leading source of imports, a decision with the potential to dramatically increase the cost of consumer goods. Trump has argued previously that that the higher prices would be compensated by more jobs.
Delivered in a hard-hit Pennsylvania steel town, the speech underscored the central message of Trump’s campaign: that policies aimed at boosting international trade have badly damaged workers and gutted manufacturing towns.
It’s an argument that found support among Republican primary voters, especially white, working class Americans whose wages have stagnated in recent years.
But the speech drew a quick and scathing response from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a traditional Republican ally and leading business lobby.
“Under Trump’s trade plans, we would see higher prices, fewer jobs, a weaker economy,” the Chamber said on its Twitter feed, directing readers to a blog post that said Trump’s policies would lead to millions of job losses and a recession.
Many economists have dismissed Trump’s promise to immediately restore manufacturing jobs as dubious at best, given the impact of automation and the many years it typically takes to negotiate trade agreements.
While renegotiating tougher deals with America’s foreign trading partners might help some businesses, manufacturing as a share of total U.S. jobs has been slipping for several decades. The number of such jobs has risen slightly since the end of the Great Recession, but the introduction of robotics and access to cheaper foreign markets has reduced U.S. factory employment to a total last seen around 1941.
Indeed, the National Association of Manufacturers slammed Trump’s logic on Tuesday, with the organization’s president, Jay Timmons, writing on Twitter: “@realDonaldTrump you have it backward. Trade is GOOD for #mfg workers & #jobs. Let’s #MakeAmericaTradeAgain.”
Trump’s speech also took aim at Clinton, blaming her husband’s administration for the negative impacts of globalization. He cited Bill Clinton’s support of NAFTA, which aimed to reduce barriers to trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization.
“Throughout her career — her whole career — she has betrayed the American worker. Never forget that,” Trump said.
Clinton’s position on trade has been a frequent attack line for Trump. She has supported some agreements, opposed others and flipped on both NAFTA and TPP, which she promoted dozens of times as secretary of state.
She now says she will back trade deals only if they fulfill a three-pronged test of creating “good jobs,” raising wages and improving national security.
But Trump, too, has evolved on the issue. In a 2005 blog post on a website affiliated with his now-defunct Trump University, the billionaire mogul argued that outsourcing isn’t always a bad thing, citing a study that found it “actually creates more jobs and increases wages, at least for IT workers.”
“We hear terrible things about outsourcing jobs, how sending work outside of our companies is contributing to the demise of American businesses. But in this instance I have to take the unpopular stance that it is not always a terrible thing,” he wrote.
Tuesday’s speech came as Trump, facing sliding poll numbers and a far larger Clinton campaign operation, is working to re-tool his message for the general election. In addition to a slew of new hires, he has been delivering prepared speeches aimed at calming the nerves of GOP donors and others concerned about his often combative style.
But his toned-down rhetoric didn’t last long. At a rally Tuesday evening in St. Clairsville, Ohio, in addition to comparing the TPP to rape, Trump reiterated his call for the return of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques in the fight against Islamic State militant. “You have to fight fire with fire,” he declared.
The comment drew cheers and chants of “USA! USA!” from the crowd.