Political Capital with John Harwood

Anti-Trade Feeling: What It Means For Politicians


So, what does this rising anti-trade sentiment mean for Republican politicians--and Democratic ones, for that matter? It's tricky because, rhetoric aside, most economists and elected officials in both parties in fact DO believe free trade offers the best path to economic growth in a global economy. That's why Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both pushed through free trade deals, popular sentiment notwithstanding.

But the path is steeper now. “Americans are right to be angered at companies that take shortcuts by importing goods that may be cheaper but less safe than goods they can get at home,” says Larry Lindsey, a former Federal Reserve Governor who has joined former Sen. Fred Thompson’s presidential bid.

Lindsey adds: “For 50 years we played world promoter of free trade because we knew it was good for us and the rest of the world.” Today, says the one-time economic aide in the Bush White House, “Americans want to see more tangible benefits from free trade and not just rely on faith…The next president has to promote free trade by playing hardball, and to be seen doing so.”

Vin Weber, the former Congressman advising Mr. Romney, believes trade expansion can still continue whichever party elects a successor to Mr. Bush, as it did under Mr. Clinton with help from Congressional Republicans. Even now, "A bipartisan leadership consensus can win out," says Mr. Weber, the Romney adviser. "But it is definitely harder."

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