Protectionism is a scythe that slices through core conservative principles, including opposition to government industrial policy, and to government picking winners and losers, and to crony capitalism elevated to an ethic (“A few Americans first”). Big, bossy government does not get bigger or bossier than when it embraces protectionism — government dictating what goods Americans can choose, and in what quantities, and at what prices. Down the decades, Donald Trump has shown an impressive versatility of conviction, but the one constant in the jumble of quarter-baked and discordant prejudices that pass for his ideas has been hostility to free trade. It perfectly expresses his adolescent delight in executive swagger, the objectives of which are of negligible importance to him; all that is important is that the spotlight follows where his impulses propel him.
For more than a century, enlarged executive power wielded by agenda-setting presidents has been the sun at the center of progressives’ solar system of aspirations. Hence protectionism — economic life drenched by politics and directed by unconstrained presidential ukases. So, if on Nov. 6 the Democrats capture either house of Congress, on Nov. 7 there will be, effectively, an accommodating Democrat in the presidency.