What We're Thinking

January 14, 2016

William Crozer

Senior Associate
BGR Government Relations

Trade: Where the Presidential Candidates Stand

January 2016 - Though terrorism and immigration have dominated recent headlines, the topic of international trade still remains a top issue on the campaign trail with a particular focus on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Among Republican candidates, Jeb Bush and John Kasich support the agreement, as do Ben Carson and Marco Rubio. However, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are firmly in the opposition. For Democrats, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders oppose the agreement though Sanders is more vehement in his opposition.

Democrats

Hillary Clinton: Though she initially supported the TPP trade agreement while Secretary of State, Clinton has since backtracked on her support citing concerns over labor and environmental terms among other provisions. Commenting during the first Democratic debate on October 13, Clinton outlined her opposition to the agreement stating, “When I was secretary of state…I hoped it would be the gold standard. It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn’t meet my standards. My standards for more new, good jobs for Americans, for rising wages for Americans” (see The CNN Democratic Debate Transcript).

Bernie Sanders: Sanders, a self-identified socialist, is a longtime opponent of free trade. He voted against trade promotion authority citing concerns over labor and environmental standards and has used the trade issue as a means to drive a wedge between his and Hillary Clinton’s campaign and to shore up support among the Democratic Party’s liberal base - a constituency that will be critical to his success in 2016. Following the release of the TPP text, Sanders took yet another jab at Clinton and vowed to obstruct passage of the agreement in the Senate and if elected President stating, “It is clear to me that the proposed agreement is not, nor has it ever been, the gold standard of trade agreements” (see Sanders Takes Jab at Clinton over Trade Deal).

Republicans

Jeb Bush: Bush has been the Republican standard bearer on the TPP and the issue of free trade in general. In an April op-ed, Bush acknowledged the risks associated with supporting the agreement in the current political environment dominated by anti-Washington and anti-big business rhetoric, but echoed his support on economic and geopolitical grounds (see Hillary Clinton’s Politically Motivated Flip Flop on TPP is Wrong). During a recent GOP debate on November 10th, Bush highlighted TPP, alongside the Keystone XL pipeline, as two initiatives critical to creating “sustained economic growth.”

Ben Carson: Though he initially opposed the TPP over executive overreach concerns with TPA, Carson has since come out publicly in support of the agreement. According to campaign spokesman Doug Watts, Carson “believes the agreement does help to level the playing field in key markets and is important to improve our ties to trading partners in Asia as a counterbalance to China’s influence in the region” (see Ben Carson Backs White House’s TPP Trade Deal). Caron’s support for the agreement is interesting as it aligns him more with the 2 establishment wing of the GOP. To date, Carson, like Trump, has largely built his candidacy around his anti-Washington, outsider status.

Ted Cruz: Cruz initially supported TPA legislation, per an April 21 WSJ op-ed co-authored along with now Ways & Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), before voting against it in June. He has since doubled down on his opposition to the TPP in a move likely calculated to appeal to the conservative base of the Republican Party, his core constituency. During a recent campaign rally in Iowa, a crucial state in his overall campaign strategy, Cruz outlined his opposition to TPP stating, “I believe we can negotiate a much better agreement with a strong conservative president than we have with Barack Obama” (see In Iowa, Cruz Says He Would Vote Against Trade Deal).

Marco Rubio: Serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio has been active in developing and promoting U.S. policy in the Asia Pacific with a particular emphasis on China (see his recent comments in Restoring American Leadership in Asia). Rubio supported passage of TPA legislation and has repeated his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (see WSJ op-ed) though a campaign spokesman recently stated that the presidential candidate “has not decided whether to support the TPP legislation” (see Marco Rubio Distances Himself from TPP as “Pillar’ of His Presidency).

Donald Trump: The current GOP front-runner, Trump is firmly opposed to the TPP labeling it “a horrible deal.” Trump’s opposition aligns with his campaign’s overall populist message that has been effective in channeling voter frustration with Washington. Among other issues, Trump has argued that the agreement does little to address factors leading to trade imbalances with countries like China (though China is not party to TPP) and the continued off-shoring of U.S. jobs. During the November 10th GOP debate, he stated, “It was a deal designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone” (see Trade Deal Divides GOP Candidates on Stage).

Tagged: 2016 Election, Republicans, Democrats,

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