This year, traditional GOP candidates such as Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush had little to say about the nation’s economic woes. On trade, both agreed in a January debate that America’s trade deficit with China results in lower prices for shirts and ties – hardly the biggest concern on the part of workers afraid for their jobs. Critics said Trump’s trade narrative was simplistic. But his position on Chinese steel imports, also outlined in a GOP debate, was far more sophisticated than those of his Republican rivals.
Republicans fell down so badly on national economic policy over eight years that people barely noticed that Hillary Clinton was about the worst candidate to go up against Donald Trump in an environment of acute economic anxiety.
Policy-wise, Clinton’s instinct was to rely on the past. “I think may husband did a pretty good job in the 1990s,” she said ++in her first debate with Trump. That statement led to a devastating Trump rejoinder: “Your husband signed NAFTA, which … is the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country. … You go to Ohio, Pennsylvania” – states Trump would win – “and you will see devastation.”
Trump’s reading of NAFTA is superficial, as the experts always point out. But it is far less superficial than ignoring the fact that globalization has left many Americans behind.