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Trump's views on trade are closer to Bernie Sanders than the Republican party

Not only are Trump's anti-free trade ideas to the left of Hillary Clinton's, they are pretty much the exact opposite of his party.
Photo by Keith Srakocic/AP

Donald Trump has proved, yet again, that he's not your average (presumptive) Republican nominee.

On Tuesday, Trump gave a speech in a former steel town outside of Pittsburgh slamming international trade and making the case for isolationism — or as he called it, economic "Americanism."

Speaking in front of a literal wall of trash, Trump said he would consider ripping up international trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and retreat from the global economic stage to bring jobs back to the US.


"Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy," Trump said. "But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache."

Heartache aside, there are real critiques to be made about the effect of globalized trade on the economy. Some liberal politicians and economists argue that trade deals have contributed to driving down wages in the US and led to the decimation of manufacturing jobs in the past half-century. Indeed, Trump's position on trade is actually quite similar to the one held by Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, who also opposes TPP and has blamed trade deals for the loss of American jobs.

But not only are Trump's ideas on trade to the left of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, they are pretty much the exact opposite of the party he is now the nominee of.

The GOP's 2012 platform demonstrates just how dramatically Trump's views differ from Republican orthodoxy.

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"International trade is crucial for our economy," party leaders wrote four years ago. "It means more American jobs, higher wages, and a better standard of living."

"A Republican president will complete negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open rapidly developing Asian markets to US products," the platform continues optimistically. "Beyond that, we envision a worldwide multilateral agreement among nations committed to the principles of open markets… in which free trade will truly be fair trade for all concerned."


Fast-forward to 2016 when the Republican nominee said that the TPP deal is "a continuing rape of our country," in a speech in Ohio later on Tuesday.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans were quick to distance themselves from Trump.

"I'm sure the workers in the Bangladeshi sweat shops who make the hideous Trump ties would be interested to know he has a new found concern about outsourcing now," said Tim Miller, a top GOP operative and Jeb Bush's former spokesperson during the GOP primary. "But if you take Trump at face value his trade policies would tank the economy, raise prices for everyone and generally do for the country what he did for Trump steaks, the Tour de Trump, Trump airlines, Atlantic City etc etc etc…"

Trump's economic worldview is not only in conflict with his own party, but also with most economists. The widely held consensus by most experts today is that increased trade and globalization, generally, is a benefit for countries like the United States. It's true that international trade hurts people on the individual level — mainly manufacturing workers who have seen their wages lowered or their jobs go overseas as the country moves toward globalization. But most economic theory has shown that liberalized trade leads to cheaper goods, increased wages, and higher GDP on the global scale, while isolationism has the opposite effect. Conservative economic theory, in particular, sees globalized trade as a positive thing for businesses and contributing to a competitive economy.


What's more, the general trend of the American economy in the past century has moved toward increased globalization and trade; reversing that is unlikely to bring back manufacturing jobs to steel towns like the one Trump was speaking from on Tuesday.

Trump's policies were widely denounced even before he was done with his speech. The US Chamber of Commerce slammed him on Twitter in real-time, saying that "Under Trump's trade plans, we would see higher prices, fewer jobs, and a weaker economy."

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Jay Timmons, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers, had a similar response to Trump on Tuesday.

".@realDonaldTrump you have it backward," he tweeted. "Trade is GOOD for #mfg workers & #jobs. Let's #MakeAmericaTradeAgain."

Very few economists on either side of the ideological spectrum would agree with Trump's proposed solutions to Make America Great Again. Trump has advocated slapping harsh tariffs on imported goods in order to fight back against what he views as unfair trade practices, an idea he reiterated on Tuesday.

"If China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets, I will use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes, including the application of tariffs," he said Tuesday.

Trump's love of tariffs has been routinely rejected by pretty much everyone who has taken an Economics 101 class in college. Adam Davidson, a prominent writer on economic issues, said in March that he could not find a single economist, either liberal or conservative, who supports tariffs.

"And that's for the simple reason that tariffs are an incredibly crude tool," Davidson explained to NPR's Weekend Edition. "They enrich exactly who you don't want to enrich, the owners of less competitive, less efficient businesses."

Basically, the increased cost from tariffs does not result in higher wages or increasing employment, he continued. Instead, Davidson said, "It simply goes to basically failed businesspeople — businesspeople who have not been able to compete in the economy."

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker