Trump vs. the global elite


Donald Trump has found a new enemy in his quest for the White House: the global elite.

In a series of economic speeches, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has railed against the forces of globalization, arguing that changes in the economy have betrayed workers and wiped out the middle class. 

{mosads}At the center of the “rigged economy,” Trump argues, are “powerful corporations, media elites and political dynasties” and his likely general election opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary Clinton and her friends in global finance want to scare America into thinking small — and they want to scare the American people out of voting for a better future,” Trump said Tuesday in a speech near Pittsburgh.

“I want you to imagine how much better our future can be if we declare independence from the elites who’ve led us to one financial and foreign policy disaster after another.”

Trump’s rhetoric is unusual for a presumptive Republican nominee for president, placing him in direct conflict with Washington business groups who have traditionally been allies of the GOP. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which doesn’t endorse presidential candidates, unloaded on Trump during the jobs speech, rebutting him point by point on his criticism of trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 

In an op-ed in The Washington Post, the Chamber’s President and CEO, Thomas Donohue, said both Clinton and Trump are wrong on trade.

“Let’s get one thing straight — ripping up our trade agreements, as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggests, and raising a tariff wall around the U.S. economy wouldn’t bring those jobs home,” Donohue wrote.

“Instead, it would decimate millions of high-wage American jobs and slam families trying to make ends meet.”

Trump has treated such criticism as validation of his argument that business leaders are selling out American interests.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is totally controlled by the special interest groups,” Trump said in defense of his plan to possibly pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the TPP.  

“They want to have TPP, one of the worst deals, it will be the worst deal since NAFTA,” Trump said. 

Trump tweeted that the Chamber should fight harder for the American workers because “China, and many others, are taking advantage of the U.S. with our terrible trade pacts.” 

Tony Fratto, a former George W. Bush administration official and head of Hamilton Place Strategies who has advised businesses on trade, called Trump’s attacks “destructive” and “wrong-headed.” 

“To trash TPP the way he does is really upsetting,” Fratto said.  

“He’s not serious at all, and he’s only interested in selling in false promises,” he added. 

But Trump is undaunted in the face of such criticism. His central pitch to the electorate — that he will “Make America Great Again” — rests on the promise of a revitalized economy in which U.S. workers come first. 

But in order to get there, he argues, “the people who rigged the system” must be defeated.

“The people who rigged the system are supporting Hillary Clinton because they know as long as she is in charge nothing will ever change. The inner cities will remain poor. The factories will remain closed. The borders will remain open. The special interests will remain firmly in control,” Trump said.

“I want you to imagine how much better our future can be if we declare independence from the elites who’ve led us to one financial and foreign policy disaster after another.”

Trump’s rhetoric appears to be tapping into deep-rooted angst in the electorate, particularly on the issue of trade in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.

Trump has attacked the TPP in strident terms, calling it a “rape of our country.”

While few other Republicans have used such language, anti-trade sentiment is running high in both parties. Should Trump win the White House on such a message, it could reshape the Republican Party, which has historically supported free trade. 

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who is reportedly a front-runner to be Trump’s running mate, did an about-face on trade this week, endorsing Trump’s approach. 

“I basically agree with Trump’s speech on trade,” Gingrich wrote to Politico.

Meanwhile, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who at first declined to endorse Trump after he won the party’s nomination, has become increasingly critical of the TPP, saying it should be renegotiated.

Ryan this week said he’s on the same page with Trump when it comes to trade deals.

“What I have heard from him is that we need to engage, that we need to have very good trade agreements that are good for America. And I agree with that.”

Still, while Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric is hitting home, some say Trump needs to avoid open warfare with business groups as he enters the general election battle. 

“You don’t have to agree but you have to find an agenda with the Chamber to fight for together,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist who is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications.

“If they remain divided, it’s good for Hillary.”

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