Republicans can debate all day whether they can fend off election day backlash from the trade war with China by bailing out farmers in key red states, but there’s no way to argue that these are conservative moves. They’re not, and the GOP will have to reconcile that well beyond the 2020 election.
At this stage, true conservatives are being forced into a major conundrum. Do we ignore the “fair trade” tactics that people like Senators Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer have been promoting for years and support the GOP for fear of Democrats, or do we stick to our guns and demand free trade continue to do what it has done for decades – drive American prosperity?
It isn’t popular in today’s politically charged atmosphere to be a conservative who opposes anything the President does. Few Republicans in DC have the political capital accumulated to enable them that luxury. Many who could survive getting on the President’s bad side by speaking out against his progressive view on trade have still chosen to support him even if that means simply avoiding the question. The taciturn approach seems to be the most popular one among free trade conservatives, including most in the House Freedom Caucus and some staunch conservatives in the Senate.
Others are taking the approach of blaming China, and while there is definitely truth in this notion, it doesn’t change the fact that the solution the President is employing not only goes against fiscal conservatism, but also fails to address the actual problem with trade. His constant hammering of trade deficits is a leftist talking point that is demonstrably untrue; when a nation’s economy is doing well, it will accumulate a trade deficit because it has the money to import. In other words, conventional wisdom has always shown trade deficits are a positive indicator of a country’s financial health.
But what the President says, perhaps for the sake of making it easily understandable to voters, isn’t actually what he’s fighting. He’s pushing against reliance on other nations for resources and labor as part of his goal to bring American jobs back home. He wants people to buy American and businesses to rely on each other instead of importing so much. These are goals that make sense until we look at actual trends of a rising global economy and apply the reality that we’re a consumer nation. With those concepts in the mix, it’s clear the President’s goals and plan to achieve them are two or three decades too late.
For the past three years, I’ve posted at least a dozen articles promoting free trade and reminding Republicans over 80% of them opposed Schumer’s Chinese tariff proposals as recently as 2015. Once the President embraced the Chuck-China plan, suddenly most in the GOP forgot what fiscal conservatism and unadulterated capitalism actually meant. I’ve invoked economists like Thomas Sowell. I’ve pointed to clear indicators that the economy is thriving despite tariffs and that if we stuck with free trade the economy would actually be doing even better. But the masses were unswayed. More importantly, the White House was unswayed.
The United States cannot survive a trade war for long because as prices go up, Americans will get antsy. The only solace is knowing China will be impacted more. That’s what the President is banking on.
Like it or not, that’s what conservatives have to bank on as well. We’re on this path and the President isn’t going to back down based on conservatives speaking out. It’s difficult for me to say that since I’m a huge proponent of keeping our politicians heading in the right direction, including our often-malleable President, but he’s pulled the trigger and placed his future in the hands of Xi Jinping, so we’re just going to have to ride out the storm.
We may be able to survive as an overall economy, but there are people who will be affected in the short term DC needs to protect from a political perspective if Republicans don’t want a bloodbath in 2020. The most obvious are the farmers, which means the other leftist economic policy must be invoked as well, namely bailouts. I can argue all day about how bailouts and subsidies are the least American financial concept in existence, but again I’m forced to stand down from coffee shop arguments over them and focus on political realities. If we’re stuck with tariffs, we’re stuck with bailouts. Thankfully, there’s a chance that if they are done properly, the revenue from the tariffs can pay for the bailouts. It’s a conservative solution for a progressive problem that shouldn’t have to be offered, but at this point there aren’t many other options.
The bottom line is this: If conservatives rightly want to put an end to tariffs, we need to either support them or stand down in arguing against them. China will be looking for weakening support for the President to decide whether or not to make a deal. If support for the President remains strong, especially in his caucus, then China will be more inclined to come to the table. We know mainstream media will bemoan the exact same tariffs they would have wholeheartedly supported if a Democrat proposed them, so we already have that uphill battle to fight. But if there’s contention within the GOP itself, China will be more emboldened to ride out the storm until a Democrat is in the White House.
Don’t get me started on the irony of a world where China’s hoping a Democrat will come in and bring back free trade.
When you’re going through hell, keep going. Winston Churchill was talking about more pressing matters when he said those words, but they apply to fiscal conservatives today.
If conservatives really want free trade to reemerge as our fiscal mantra, we have to push forward with these tariffs and bailouts. The sooner they can be effective, the sooner we’ll get back to doing things the right way.
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