03.11.2016 2

Poll: 59 percent of Republicans say ‘free trade’ benefits other countries more than U.S.


By Robert Romano

“Surprisingly, the voters of the party traditionally strongest for free trade, the Republican Party, have become the most consistent and strongest opponents to trade policy.”

That was independent pollster Pat Caddell at the National Press Club on March 10 commenting on a poll of 1,950 likely voters he conducted on behalf of Americans for Limited Government on voter attitudes toward the international trade issue including the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership now under consideration.

Particularly, GOP voters more than any other segment are opposed to vast trade deals that shift production and jobs overseas, with 59 percent of Republicans agreeing that “Over last two decades, free trade agreements signed by the U.S. were more of a benefit to other countries.”

But that’s only in hindsight. When it comes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, voters are barely aware of what’s happening in Washington, D.C. Before providing any information about the trade agreement, 51 percent in the poll said they didn’t know enough about it to form an opinion.

Once given arguments for and against it, Republican voters overwhelmingly oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, 66 percent to 15 percent. That opposition does cut across party lines. Democrats oppose it 44 percent to 30 percent, too, and Independents oppose it 52 percent to 19 percent.

This represents the shattering of the global trade agenda consensus that has shaped U.S. trade policy since NAFTA in the 1990s and permanent normal trade relations with China in 2000. The only that has kept it going has been political, bipartisan acquiescence and surrender to foreign powers to facilitate that agenda, all the while broad swaths of the American electorate have been left behind and who plainly lack real representation on this vital issue.

“This poll shows what I’ve intuitively felt and that is that the American people are getting more and more engaged,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) who participated in the press conference.

“The trade issue is becoming a voting issue,” Sessions added.

Indeed, and the Caddell poll may forever alter how Washington, D.C. views the international trade issue, which is now ripe for the picking for candidates such as Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders, who have made it front and center in their presidential campaigns. Both just won the Michigan primaries.

But far and away, Republican voters hate these bad trade deals the most that outsource production and jobs overseas. The Caddell poll may go a long way to explaining why Trump in particular is doing so well.

“That is a stunning change,” Caddell remarked, blown away by the results.

So much for being the party of so-called “free trade.” The GOP, whose elected representatives in Congress traditionally vote overwhelmingly in favor of these trade agreements, may be a political party without any real representation on this issue. And that cannot continue, Caddell warned.

“You cannot ignore American opinion this way,” he said, warning later in the press briefing, “1992 is like an oasis compared to the storm that is building now,” referring to Ross Perot’s presidential candidacy of 1992.

Then, Perot garnered 19.7 million votes in the general election around the trade issue and against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning, who hosted the press briefing, agreed, saying, “If you’re a Republican candidate in this country… you have to be against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, at the very least, against it in the lame duck session [of Congress after the election].”

Manning mentioned the lame duck session of Congress because, more than likely, President Barack Obama will only sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership — with its mandatory 60 days to be voted on by Congress thanks to fast track trade authority — at a time so that it can only come up after the elections have already happened, when lawmakers will no longer be held accountable by voters.

Caddell said if that happened, it could be over for Republican leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), citing how the Republican-controlled Congress had already alienated base voters by cutting deals with the Obama administration after the 2014 elections on the budget and immigration, and again in 2015 on granting trade promotion authority and authorizing the Iran nuclear deal.

If it comes to a lame duck trade deal only voted on in relative secrecy after the election, against the American people’s express wishes, that could the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That could be what destroys the GOP. Not Donald Trump. Not Ted Cruz.

As Caddell ominously concluded, “What these results are saying to the leadership is, you are going to be leading no one, if you keep this up.”

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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