The Cable

Trump Hates Free Trade, but His VP Pick Backed NAFTA

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is a committed fan of free trade who derided Trump’s call to ban Muslims. Why is the mogul choosing him?

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 4: Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., testifies during the House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing on "State of American Schools and Workplaces: Expanding Opportunity in America's Schools and Workplaces" on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 4: Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., testifies during the House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing on "State of American Schools and Workplaces: Expanding Opportunity in America's Schools and Workplaces" on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

For months, Donald Trump has singled out one company in Indiana when unleashing attacks on corporations shipping American manufacturing jobs overseas.

And now he’s tapped as his running mate the state’s governor, Mike Pence, who has a long history of backing precisely the sorts of free trade deals Trump insists allow companies like Carrier Corp. to move those jobs out of the country.

In February, Carrier announced it was shutting down its air-conditioner factories in the state and moving 1,400 jobs to Mexico. Trump pounced on the news as evidence of the damage done by free trade deals, vowing to get tough with U.S. firms outsourcing jobs and to impose tariffs on goods coming from Mexico, China, and other competitors.

But Pence, Trump’s vice presidential pick, does not blame Carrier’s move on free trade. And his selection as Trump’s wingman calls into question how two men with such opposing views on trade — and issues like Trump’s calls to ban Muslims from entering the United States — will reconcile their differences on the campaign trail.

As a congressman from Indiana from 2001 to 2013, Pence, 57, established himself as a mainstream conservative, taking establishment positions on the U.S. invasion of Iraq, free trade, and hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage.

For more than a decade, Pence repeatedly backed trade deals with partners in every corner of the globe. In 2001, Pence heaped praise on the North American Free Trade Agreement — which Trump has said “destroyed” the U.S. economy and is a “disaster” — on the floor of the House.

Pence also voted for the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement and has voiced support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the massive trade deal with 12 Pacific nations that Trump says benefits China and has likened to “rape.”

“Trade means jobs, but trade also means security,” Pence tweeted in 2014. “The time has come for all of us to urge the swift adoption of the Trans Pacific Partnership.”

Pence also has strongly endorsed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a free trade deal between the United States and European Union. As Indiana’s governor, Pence led trade missions to both China and Japan, and in a 2015 letter to Indiana’s congressional delegation, he wrote that Congress must reduce “tariffs and other trade barriers” so that Indiana businesses can compete globally. He also used the letter to urge the lawmakers to support “any other trade-related measures when they are brought before the Congress for consideration.”

China has long been the ultimate villain in Trump’s campaign speeches, with the real estate mogul accusing Beijing of currency manipulation and unfair trade tactics. But Pence has staked out a much different view, voting twice in favor of trade agreements with Beijing.

By tapping Pence, Trump bypasses a pair of other Republicans who seem much closer to the mogul’s views on Islam and the war on terror. Echoing similar remarks from Trump, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has criticized American Muslims, saying they “have an obligation to help clear out the mosques that are radical.” And another Republican on the short list for Trump’s running mate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, spent years as a federal prosecutor, giving him at least a measure of credibility when discussing how best to fight terrorism.

Despite their differences on trade, though, Trump and Pence are fairly closely aligned on immigration. While Pence denounced Trump’s calls to ban Muslim immigrants as “offensive and unconstitutional” in December, just a month earlier he issued an order to state agencies telling them not to assist Syrian refugees trying to resettle in Indiana. The directive was slapped down by a federal judge in February.

Pence, however, will face some awkward questions trying to explain how he reconciles Trump’s unorthodox and often isolationist stances on foreign policy with his own conventional conservative views.

Unlike Trump, who has portrayed America’s foreign wars as costly quagmires and slammed the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a mistake, the Indiana governor has been a consistent Republican hawk and warned of the dangers of turning away from the world.

“It is imperative that conservatives again embrace America’s role as leader of the free world and the arsenal of democracy,” Pence said in a speech last year.

While in Congress, Pence voted for the 2002 Iraq War authorization and delivered a speech shortly before the invasion, asking: “How could any decent human being, knowing the official barbarism of the regime of Saddam Hussein, ever deign to defend it?” 

He also backed then-President George W. Bush’s handling of Afghanistan and the broader war on terror.

Trump, by sharp contrast, has blasted Bush for having the 9/11 terrorist attacks occur on his watch and expressed praise and admiration for Saddam, Vladimir Putin, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The mogul’s latest dictator-related controversy flared this month when he said Saddam had been “so good” at killing terrorists.

Pence, who also has some experience as a talk radio host, can help craft a bit of political theater when needed.

In an effort to show how the security situation in Baghdad had purportedly improved during the U.S. troop surge there, Pence and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) flew to Baghdad in April 2007 to tour the Shorja market, which had been the scene of a devastating suicide bombing just two months earlier that killed at least 60 people.

“It was just like any open-air market in Indiana in the summertime,” Pence wrote later. “Lots of people, lots of booths and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.”

In the days following the visit, interviews with locals proved the visit was anything but a stroll through an open-air market. The U.S. military had shut down the market and surrounding streets for the visit, which was overseen by the then-commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. And the lawmakers were guarded by more than 100 U.S. troops and a protective bubble of armored vehicles, as attack helicopters buzzed overhead.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

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