Grading out the GOP debate on trade

I didn’t see the GOP debate yesterday, but looking through the transcipt, I was surprised to see trade came up as an issue. According to the Wall Street Journal‘s Jackie Calmes and Amy Shatz: {S]everal [candidates] reflected skepticism about free trade that is gaining hold in both political parties. The others, while professedly free-traders, acknowledged ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

I didn't see the GOP debate yesterday, but looking through the transcipt, I was surprised to see trade came up as an issue. According to the Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes and Amy Shatz: {S]everal [candidates] reflected skepticism about free trade that is gaining hold in both political parties. The others, while professedly free-traders, acknowledged widespread job losses as a consequence of globalism and a public sense that trading partners, particularly China, are taking advantage of the U.S.Looking at the transcript, I think Calmes and Shatz are overinterpreting what was said. The fringe candidates (Hunter, Tancredo) were perfectly happy to sound protectionist. But they're not going to win, so let's skip them. Some of the mainstream candidates (Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee) had some caveats: Romney: "We need to make sure that the Chinese begin to float their currency and they protect our designs and our patents and our technology." Giuliani: "I think you've got to almost separate them into two different categories. There's economic protection and then there's protection for safety, security, and legal rights. And I don't think we've done a particularly good job on the second, and we have to improve those agreements. But we can't throw out the baby with the bathwater. We can't say, because these agreements weren't perfect, because they have problems, because they have issues, we're going to turn our back on free trade." Huckabee: "the fact is, we don't have fair trade. And that's the issue we've got to address." The other candidates (Paul, McCain, Thompson) didn't pander at all on this question. Which, of course, means they're doomed. So, on the whole, the only possible nominee who scared me was Huckabee. The rest of the field sounded relatively sane on the topic. And, credit where it's due, Giuliani scored the best combination of sound policy and sound politics on the issue. Oh, one last thing -- no one let Ron Paul anywhere near the Federal Reserve.

I didn’t see the GOP debate yesterday, but looking through the transcipt, I was surprised to see trade came up as an issue. According to the Wall Street Journal‘s Jackie Calmes and Amy Shatz:

{S]everal [candidates] reflected skepticism about free trade that is gaining hold in both political parties. The others, while professedly free-traders, acknowledged widespread job losses as a consequence of globalism and a public sense that trading partners, particularly China, are taking advantage of the U.S.

Looking at the transcript, I think Calmes and Shatz are overinterpreting what was said. The fringe candidates (Hunter, Tancredo) were perfectly happy to sound protectionist. But they’re not going to win, so let’s skip them. Some of the mainstream candidates (Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee) had some caveats:

Romney: “We need to make sure that the Chinese begin to float their currency and they protect our designs and our patents and our technology.” Giuliani: “I think you’ve got to almost separate them into two different categories. There’s economic protection and then there’s protection for safety, security, and legal rights. And I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job on the second, and we have to improve those agreements. But we can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. We can’t say, because these agreements weren’t perfect, because they have problems, because they have issues, we’re going to turn our back on free trade.” Huckabee: “the fact is, we don’t have fair trade. And that’s the issue we’ve got to address.”

The other candidates (Paul, McCain, Thompson) didn’t pander at all on this question. Which, of course, means they’re doomed. So, on the whole, the only possible nominee who scared me was Huckabee. The rest of the field sounded relatively sane on the topic. And, credit where it’s due, Giuliani scored the best combination of sound policy and sound politics on the issue. Oh, one last thing — no one let Ron Paul anywhere near the Federal Reserve.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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