Once the new trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico was announced, it seemed like everyone was chiming in on it. There was a race between President Trump and Speaker Pelosi to see who could take credit for it first. Media analysts were picking apart the few details that were officially released.
But do you know who wasn’t talking about it? The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Not one of the top tier hopefuls released a statement about it. And as Alexander Bolton at The Hill notes, there’s a good explanation for this phenomenon. They’re all caught between a rock and a hard place. Nancy Pelosi and the unions who fund most of their campaigns both like the deal, but praising it would mean giving a nod to a big victory for the President, whom they all despise. What’s a Democrat to do?
Democrats running for president face a difficult decision on whether to embrace a revamped trade deal with Mexico and Canada that is backed by the AFL-CIO and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), but also represents a significant victory for President Trump.
The deal seems likely to divide the Democratic field, with progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on one side and centrists such as former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on the other.
None of the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates released statements or offered public comment on the trade deal Tuesday.
It’s kind of sad that this is even a question. I mean, if it’s good for the country, should it matter who gets the “win?” And yes, I say this knowing that the President, like so many politicians these days, measures everything in wins. That’s how the guy rolls. But why does that stop the primary candidates from weighing in? They could easily have followed the lead of Pelosi, who bragged to the media that she “ate his lunch.” She claims that the deal wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t played hardball with the Mexican delegation and she won some concessions from Trump to boot.
And not all of the candidates had to approve of the deal. Bernie Sanders has long said that he wouldn’t support it unless the deal did more for workers’ rights and environmental protection. He could have just come out in opposition to the deal. Of course, that would have put him at odds with the Speaker and the labor unions, but veering away from party dogma is nothing new for Bernie. (Elizabeth Warren is also rumored to be against the deal for similar reasons.)
Unfortunately, this muted response to one of the few significant achievements in Washington this year is all too emblematic of the current political battlefield. Nothing can be a win for one party unless it also looks like a punch in the nose to the other party. And the candidates who are preparing to do battle with President Trump next fall apparently can’t be seen saying so much as a single syllable that sounds as if they agreed with him on something.
To be clear, I’m not here today singing the praises of unfettered bipartisanship. There are two sides in these ideological battles for a reason, each with their own fundamental principles. And some of those principles and positions are essentially mutually exclusive. Also, we’ve had some Great Moments in Bipartisanship in the past that produced awful results. These include the partnership between Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush on Medicare expansion. Also, the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
But sometimes we just have to suck it up and take a couple of losses to get the important things. This is particularly true in budget negotiations, as painful as it is to admit that. While it still has major issues that I’m not thrilled with, I suppose the new trade deal falls into that category. Trump promised to rebuild NAFTA and make it more fair. It’s still far from perfect, but it at least looks better than it was.
Now if we can just get the Democrats’ 2020 candidates to offer an opinion. Don’t hold your breath, though.