Trump may be the president to bring us truly 'free' trade — and a free market

Trump may be the president to bring us truly 'free' trade — and a free market

With furrowed brows, palpable anxiety and more than a little condescension, European leaders at the Quebec G-7 summit in June intended to school President TrumpDonald TrumpDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Biden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' Taylor Greene defends 'America First' effort, pushes back on critics MORE on the complexities of international trade.

Trump, everybody knew, was a protectionist, the biggest for an American president since, well, perhaps ever. He menaced German carmakers, French dairy farmers and Canadian hockey stick producers with his vicious tweets.

"America, a victim! Can you believe?"


But then Trump stunned the room with a lesson of his own.

"We should at least consider no tariffs, no barriers — scrapping all of it," Trump proposed.

Awkward! One minute imploring Trump on the evils of tariffs, and just as suddenly, forced to defend theirs! The offer, needless to say, had no takers. Justin Trudeau, reinforcing Canadian meekness in his desperation to compensate for it, was particularly aghast.

A "major reversal!" screamed the media. At the press conference to explain was Trump's director of the National Economic Council, noted protectionist ... Larry Kudlow?

What kind of protectionist proposes eliminating all the tariffs? (And what kind of protectionist hires Kudlow?)

The answer is at the heart of one of the single biggest misconceptions of the president.  Contrary to the breathless media, scandalized globalists, and, yes, hardcore free-traders on the right, President Trump has the potential to end up as the most free-market president of our lifetime.

No one who opposes free trade in any fundamental or ideological way would seriously propose eliminating all trade barriers.

But someone determined to level the international playing field, fearless of criticism from elites, open to bold and creative tactics, and a master of surprising his rivals might end up being called a protectionist in the process.

Start with a simple question: do we have free trade with China, the world's second largest economy and our biggest long-term geopolitical rival?

Hell no we don't! China is robbing us blind. Chinese companies routinely steal American intellectual property wholesale, and U.S. firms are threatened when the market is flooded with counterfeit copies of their products.

"Participation in the Chinese market is for Chinese companies only," said Daniel McGahn, the CEO of American Superconductor, a Massachusetts-based company who saw its stock price fall 96 percent when a Chinese firm ripped off its technology.

"Your participation as a Western company, at least to date, is a mirage. They're there to bring you in, be able to figure a way to harvest whatever they can from you, and then spit you out when you're no longer useful," McGahn added.

When you're on the menu, it's not free trade.

Which leads to a second question, have prior American presidents been successful in leveling the market with China?

Quite obviously, no, otherwise the situation would have improved at least somewhat in the past several decades. Instead, if anything, it's worsened, all while China grows at a much faster rate than would otherwise be possible, gaining ground on the U.S.

Third, are tariffs a useful deterrent in a broader effort to level the international market?

We don't know yet how it will turn out. It is clear that foreign leaders are very eager to avoid them. More broadly, here's the case for giving Trump the time and space to conduct his strategy, even if it ends up breaking a few eggs in the process.

1) Trump is a master of keeping his enemies off balance. Why does fortune favor the bold? And what is the "element" of surprise? If Trump stuck to the old, failed tactics, we know he'd fail. So it's no reason to worry if he tries new approaches, even if they result in gnashing of teeth from global elites.

2) Trump is fundamentally pro-free market. He's a businessman — he understands competition. He signed the most important tax cut in decades as the biggest domestic priority of this Congress. And his administration is dismantling bureaucratic red-tape as fast as humanly possible. The chasm on trade is much more tactical than it is philosophical.

3) Our rivals on the world stage, especially China, can practice patient strategies more easily because their societies aren't free. My biggest worry about the president's strategy is not that it can't work, but that the American public will quickly recoil from any short-term pain encountered from a strategy that's focused on the longer-term. China's strategic decisions are made at the scale not of decades, but centuries.

A truly free market with China — and Europe — would be a huge accomplishment. Is it surprising that "protectionist" Trump, always trouncing the expectations of his critics, might be the one to get us there?

Charlie Kirk is founder and president of Turning Point USA, a nonprofit that promotes free-market values and limited government.