The second round of Democratic debates showed how most of candidates still don’t understand the trade issue and the visceral impact it has on blue-collar voters.
This misunderstanding will cost them the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin just as it cost Hillary Clinton these battlegrounds.
The Democrats for the most part still don’t understand that for blue-collar Americans, trade and immigration are two sides of the same coin. Whether it’s from outsourcing production to China and Mexico or uncontrolled illegal immigration at our border, working Americans see their jobs and wages threatened by cheap foreign labor.
Amazingly, trade, China and tariffs never came up in the first debate, an indication the media doesn’t understand the importance of these issues. They got around to it in round two, and what we saw was revealing.
Sens. Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Gov. Jay Inslee and others referred to “Trump’s trade war.” That’s a phrase hedge fund billionaire and impeachment monomaniac Tom Steyer uses in his TV ads (he didn’t make the stage).
While popular with the elite media, it is incredibly tone deaf to the reality blue-collar Americans in the Rust Belt have experienced. They know it’s China’s trade war, it began a long time ago, and until Donald Trump came along Washington never lifted a finger to do anything about the wholesale destruction of American jobs, farms and industries.
We heard Harris call the president’s tariffs “the Trump trade tax” and falsely claim Americans are paying more because of it. That’s contrary to all the evidence — the government closely tracks consumer prices and has yet to find any inflation. You have to wonder who she is trying to reach with her U.S. Chamber of Commerce talking point.
Beto O’Rourke, the former U.S. representative from Texas and soon-to-be former presidential candidate, peddled the same falsehood, saying the tariffs “constitute the largest tax increase on the American consumer, hitting the middle class and the working poor especially hard.”
He has it exactly backwards — China’s economic aggression hit the middle class and working poor especially hard and they welcome President Trump’s countermeasures. When Harris et al say they’d scrap the tariffs, they may win Wall Street but they lose Michigan.
For her part, the reliably incoherent and increasingly irrelevant Kirsten Gillibrand says she wants to have a clean energy race with China, revealing her profound ignorance.
It’s well-established fact that China illegally subsidizes its solar and wind-power industries, even being convicted on charges it stole renewable energy technology. Everyone knows China’s goal is to destroy competitors and dominate this “industry of the future” by any means necessary — everyone but Gillibrand. She remains enthusiastic about racing against an opponent found guilty of doping.
Gillibrand wasn’t the only candidate breathlessly promising “millions of good jobs making green energy and selling it to the world.”
Michigan factory workers have heard this line from every Democrat since before Barack Obama and they aren’t buying it. They understand an obvious truth that seems to have escaped the politicians: if it’s cheaper to make auto parts in China it will be cheaper to make solar panels there too. That’s why you need tariffs.
They’ve also heard the tired talking points about job retraining, outcompeting and innovation being the solution. The unions gave up on “trade adjustment assistance” in the form of job retraining a long time ago, and if all our brand-new innovations end up being made in China how exactly does that help American workers?
When Obama’s multi-nation trade and investment pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP, came up most of the candidates aside from Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren did not acquit themselves well.
President Trump fulfilled a campaign promise to the voters who elected him when he scrapped the TPP. John Delaney said he’d bring it back, though he is more likely to swim across the Pacific than get within spitting distance of the Oval Office.
As vice president, Joe Biden was lead pitchman for Obama’s TPP and he took a page from Hillary Clinton on the debate stage. The same way Hillary disavowed the agreement she had touted as the “gold standard,” Biden said he would renegotiate it without ever explaining (or being asked) what was wrong with the deal he had so enthusiastically embraced.
Joe went on to tout his imaginary new, improved TPP with the same old gobbledygook he used to sell the old discredited TPP — “Either China’s going to write the rules of the road for the 21st century on trade or we are” blah blah blah. You could tell he hasn’t changed his thinking one wit.
The blue-collar voters that carried Donald Trump to victory are familiar with the political double-talk with its empty promises of job retraining, new green jobs, etc that politicians in both parties have used to sell disastrous free trade policies and justify inaction in the face of China’s economic aggression.
Blue-collar workers along with farmers and ranchers support President Trump for taking on China’s economic aggression, something they feel should have been done a long time ago.
They understand China doesn’t play by the same rules as us. That’s especially true for union workers, because they know the bloody battles the labor movement fought to write those rules.
Rather than viewing Trump’s tariffs as a “tax on families” these Americans would rather see the tariffs doubled and made permanent. They remember life was much, much better for them before tariffs were permanently lifted in 2000 and their factory jobs bled out to China — and their communities bled out, period.
President Trump’s tough-on-China stand is popular with the blue-collar voters he needs to win the Great Lakes states. When he says he’s in no rush to make a deal, he’s telling these Americans he’s standing up for them, something no other politician ever did.
With the exception of Sanders and Warren, Democrats still don’t get it. They remain in thrall to the free trade dogma of the Washington-Wall Street establishment. When Harris repeated ‘tariffs are a tax on American families’ canard in her closing statement it was signal to corporate donors that she will do what’s right — for them.
Democrats better get smart fast.
If they don’t, 2020 will be a repeat of 2016, when President Trump hung the globalist NAFTA and TPP around Hillary’s neck and turned the Great Blue Wall around the Great Lakes into the deep blue depths where Democratic presidential dreams drowned.
Curtis Ellis is policy director with America First Policies. He was a senior policy adviser with the Donald J. Trump campaign.