When Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence was asked during Tuesday’s debate about the state of the economy, he went into a litany of GOP talking points from the past 20 years ―we need to slash regulations, taxes and government spending. Then he said something contrary to his entire career in Congress, vowing to enact “the kinda trade deals that’ll put the American people first.”
When air-conditioning manufacturer Carrier Corp. announced it would be shipping 1,400 jobs from Indiana to Monterey, Mexico, Donald Trump pounced. Here was another piece of evidence supporting his central economic critique ― bad trade deals were sending good-paying jobs abroad. He’s been blasting Carrier on the stump ever since, vowing to slap tariffs on anything the company ships back to the United States.
Pence, the governor of Indiana, had a different take. Trade policy hadn’t just cost his state hundreds of jobs. Nefarious, unspecified government regulations had.
“Federal regulations continue to stymie our national economy,” Pence said in a written statement in February. “The fact that these companies are leaving the United States speaks broadly about the need for reform in our nation’s capital.”
Nobody really believed him. The North American Free Trade Agreement is pretty obviously the key policy in play when a U.S. manufacturer ships jobs to Mexico to take advantage of lower wages. But Pence was in a bad spot. Throughout his 12 years in Congress, Pence was an ardent free trader, voting in favor of every trade deal that came up, and celebrating prior pacts, including NAFTA.
Pence supported free trade deals with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Oman, Chile and Singapore under President George W. Bush, and deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea under President Barack Obama. Pence also strongly backed Obama’s pending Trans-Pacific Partnership deal with 11 other Pacific nations.
Trump once called TPP “a rape of our country.”
Jim Tankersley at The Washington Post first detailed the disconnect between Pence and Trump on trade back in July. A week later, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ― a corporate lobbying group that has made free trade a top priority for decades ― celebrated Pence’s record with a similar tally.
Trump is also a giant hypocrite on trade. His clothing line has been manufactured in Bangladesh, Indonesia and China, while some of his construction projects have relied on steel from China. He claims he has a “fiduciary” responsibility to get the cheapest materials he can, but that isn’t true. Trump owns his companies ― he can’t plead that he’s just doing what he has to do to boost returns for his investors, because he doesn’t have investors.
Trade policy is complicated, and Trump’s simple promise to “renegotiate” trade deals to fix everything is vague and politically difficult. But there are more specific progressive critiques of the existing global trade order, at a time when the Beltway consensus of unfettered support for globalization appears to be eroding.