Com­pli­ant in Cleve­land

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Michael Ger­son

— With pre­cious lit­tle at­ten­tion, the Repub­li­can Party’s at­ti­tude to­ward in­ter­na­tional trade has of­fi­cially shifted. Gone is the 2012 plat­form’s strong en­dorse­ment of the Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) and trade in gen­eral. In­stead, the new plat­form re­flects Don­ald Trump’s more skep­ti­cal at­ti­tude to­ward trade deals (Trump has re­ferred to the TPP as “a rape of our coun­try”). “I ex­pected it to be con­tentious, and it wasn’t,” said a co-chair of the plat­form sub­com­mit­tee on the econ­omy. “Peo­ple all seemed to be go­ing to­ward the same goal here, which is to get the can­di­date elected.”

A mi­nor thing. Un­less you are ac­tu­ally an eco­nomic con­ser­va­tive who cares any­thing about jobs and eco­nomic growth. A com­mit­ment to free trade is not an extraneous add-on to con­ser­va­tive eco­nom­ics; it is the ap­pli­ca­tion of con­ser­va­tive eco­nom­ics on a global scale. What Trump has pro­posed, ac­cord­ing to GOP strate­gist Vin We­ber, is “to re­verse a Repub­li­can stance taken since WWII and em­brace the no­tion of a state-planned econ­omy.” In threat­en­ing a 35 per­cent tar­iff on many goods im­ported from Mex­ico and a 45 per­cent tar­iff on im­ports from China — and by pledg­ing to pun­ish spe­cific Amer­i­can busi­nesses for be­hav­ior he doesn’t ap­prove of — Trump is at­tempt­ing to as­sume Hugo Chavez-like pow­ers over global com­merce.

What would be the re­sult? A mas­sive tar­iff is the equiv­a­lent of a mas­sive, re­gres­sive con­sump­tion tax. Prices would rise for just about ev­ery­thing — es­pe­cially the kind of prod­ucts sold to work­ing- and mid­dle-class peo­ple at Home De­pot and Wal-Mart. Since about half of Amer­i­can im­ports are sup­plies used by firms to make other things, eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity would slow. Amer­i­can jobs would be lost. (Some eco­nomic mod­els pre­dict that Trump’s tar­iffs could cost up­ward of 1.4 mil­lion jobs over the next four years.) And the im­po­si­tion of high tar­iffs would al­most cer­tainly pro­voke a broader trade war, which is a proven and re­li­able method to cause a global re­ces­sion.

In the par­lance of eco­nom­ics, this pol­icy ap­proach is “bonkers.” Ac­cord­ing to many econ­o­mists, the prime cul­prit in the de­cline of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs is tech­nol­ogy rather than global trade. And Trump’s prom­ise to re­verse glob­al­iza­tion through his awe­some ne­go­ti­at­ing skills is mag­i­cal think­ing, dis­tract­ing at­ten­tion from ac­tual poli­cies that might help ed­u­cate and train


Amer­i­can work­ers for a 21st-cen­tury econ­omy.

Repub­li­can lead­ers — at least those with am­bi­tions in the age of Trump, such as Mike Pence and Newt Gin­grich — have been quick to shed decades of eco­nomic con­vic­tion. (Pence was a cham­pion of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment in the 1990s, ar­gu­ing the “the right course is not to turn back the clock, to close our bor­ders,” but to rec­og­nize that “trade means jobs.”) And the cur­rent at­ti­tude of the party it­self can best be de­scribed as supine. Some of the most ba­sic con­ser­va­tive eco­nomic views, it seems, are ex­pend­able “to get the can­di­date elected.”

This is the story of the Cleve­land con­ven­tion so far. Trump has pushed. Repub­li­cans have gen­er­ally caved. Those who haven’t — like a few on the con­ven­tion rules com­mit­tee — have been crushed with­out even the pre­tense of mag­na­nim­ity.

The fate of those who come around to Trump’s way of think­ing is not much bet­ter. Trump used the an­nounce­ment of Pence as his run­ning mate as an op­por­tu­nity to re­mind Amer­ica that his pick had caved to “es­tab­lish­ment” pres­sure and en­dorsed Ted Cruz dur­ing the pri­maries. It was as if Trump were say­ing that he knows what weak men are like, and en­joys see­ing them fi­nally crawl. Gov. Chris Christie has had his early loy­alty to Trump re­warded with a hand­ful of hu­mil­i­a­tion (in­clud­ing a joke about Oreos). Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus have been se­ri­ally em­bar­rassed in spite of their sup­port. All these lead­ers have been minia­tur­ized by their con­tact with Trump. Which seems to be part of the pur­pose. Trump not only wants his for­mer op­po­nents to re­nounce past skep­ti­cism, but also to pay for it.

“It’s al­most — in some ways, like, I’m run­ning against two par­ties,” Trump ex­plained last month. In Cleve­land, one se­nior Repub­li­can of­fi­cial told me, “Trump is still set­tling scores.” His goal is not party unity, un­less it is the unity of un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der. On some is­sues, like global trade, this has in­volved the sur­ren­der of prin­ci­ple, with hardly a yelp of protest.

Mean­while, Repub­li­cans are be­ing asked to pre­tend that ev­ery­thing is nor­mal, even as their lead­ers are be­ing be­lit­tled and some defin­ing Repub­li­can con­vic­tions aban­doned. The bal­loons will drop as usual — but on a dif­fer­ent and di­min­ished party.

Michael Ger­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at michael­ger­son@wash­

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