Facing the future on trade: Democrats must reject anti-trade obstructionism
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Anti-trade populists are hell-bent on locking Democrats into a future of rigid opposition to trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  They recently failed in efforts to include a plank in the Democratic Party Platform that would have committed Democrats to the decidedly undemocratic principle of never, ever agreeing even to bring TPP to a vote—either in this Congress or any future one. Now, they are back, pressuring Democratic candidates and Members to go on record against TPP—a key priority for President Obama—and any vote on TPP in the lame duck session of Congress.

Pro-growth progressives should stand up and fight this ill-conceived attempt to make dogmatic opposition to trade agreements a new political loyalty test. The last thing America needs is a Democratic version of the Republicans’ infamous Norquist Pledge on taxes, which has paralyzed Washington’s ability to compromise and make sound fiscal policy.  


Killing TPP would deprive policy makers of a potent tool for stimulating jobs and growth, and for augmenting American influence and leadership in the Pacific East. Make no mistake: blanket hostility to trade agreements is a formula for slow growth, lagging innovation and a fatal loss of U.S. economic dynamism.

Anti-TPP pledges are also seriously out of touch. You may not know it from current political debates­—and the theatrics and threats of organized labor and other anti-trade activists—but grassroots Democrats actually support trade and trade agreements.

In the Progressive Policy Institute’s recent poll of voter attitudes in key swing states, Democratic voters backed new high-standard trade deals by a margin of 66 to 25 percent. And swing voters—who ultimately decide elections—were also strongly supportive in our poll, by 55 to 32 percent.

Other nationwide polling underscores clear-cut Democratic support for trade. When asked in a recent Pew poll whether trade agreements have been good for America, Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters agreed, by 56 to 34 percent. And key and growing parts of the current—and future—Democratic coalition were particularly supportive, including Hispanics (72 percent), Millennials (67 percent), Blacks (55 percent), and women (54 percent). Notably, trade agreements polled favorably among voters who supported Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSusan Collins signals she won't campaign against Biden Cuccinelli says rule forcing international students to return home will 'encourage schools to reopen' Clinton labels ICE decision on international students 'cruel' and 'unnecessary' MORE (58 to 31 percent) and even those who backed Bernie SandersBernie SandersJoe Biden wins New Jersey primary Biden wins Delaware primary Military madness in the age of COVID-19 MORE (55 to 38 percent).

It’s also not surprising that innovative Democratic mayors—who face the vital task of bringing new sources of growth and jobs to their communities—are particularly vocal champions of trade and trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But none of this matters to anti-trade activists. Recall that these are the same folks who last year cynically urged Democrats to oppose adjustment assistance for unemployed American workers—a Democratic priority since President Kennedy—in an unsuccessful, scorched-earth effort to defeat Trade Promotion Authority legislation. Some of these activists are backing challenges by anti-trade Republicans against Democratic Members who have refused to buckle under to their demands. Many others supported a series of spectacularly unsuccessful primary challenges by anti-TPP candidates against pro-trade Democratic incumbents, including Rep. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindBottom line Coronavirus culture war over reopening economy hits Capitol Hill How the GOP hopes to overcome steep odds in House battle MORE (D-Wis.), who was handily re-nominated after a campaign in which his support for the TPP was a key issue.

Meanwhile, while anti-trade forces are working to drive a destructive wedge between Democratic Members, grassroots Democrats, and President Obama, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE is advocating extreme policies that would trample America’s values and wreck the US. economy. Trump would expel millions from our shores, cozy up to brutal dictators, and apparently give out nuclear weapons like jellybeans. And experts warn that his 1930-era mix of crushing tariffs and trade wars could lead to a global recession, the loss of up to 4 million U.S. jobs, and higher prices for hard-strapped American consumers on everything from cell phones to pickup trucks.

In the few months remaining before November’s election, it’s vital for Democrats—and all who support progressive values, and a strong, growing, and fair American economy—to pull together to defeat Donald Trump and to elect principled leaders dedicated to working cooperatively to address America’s many challenges, especially the challenge of promoting stronger and more inclusive economic growth. Sowing discord by demanding that Democrats publically rebuke President Obama on TPP—and effectively side with Donald Trump—only detracts from this crucial effort. All Democrats should oppose these divisive demands for anti-trade fealty, no matter their ultimate position on TPP.

PPI’s polling underscores that voters are considerably more sophisticated about trade than our political campaigns and Washington debates suggest. They may not always like globalization, but Democrats and swing voters realize that it’s an irreversible reality that can’t be ignored or upended by embracing Depression-era trade policies. Instead, they believe that, for America to grow and prosper, it must engage globally and trade even more, and that smart trade agreements must be part of this effort.

Democrats will be able to debate and discuss trade and TPP after November’s election. We hope that, when they do, they’ll face the future, and follow the lead of an increasingly young, diverse, and urban Democratic base in supporting trade, trade agreements, and TPP. 

Ed Gerwin is Senior Fellow for Trade and Global Opportunity at the Progressive Policy Institute. Will Marshall is PPI’s President.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.