Political pundits will say that the Republican candidate for Congress in NY-26 lost because of Medicare. They’re wrong. This election was more of a referendum on a candidate’s ability to defend freedom than anything else.
In NY-26, the Republican party nominated a fairly conservative establishment Republican in Jane Corwin, but an ex-Democrat named Jack Davis, running as a “Tea-Party” candidate, siphoned votes from the Republican. The reason was not that Davis is obviously more conservative or because Corwin is not sufficiently conservative: It’s because Corwin did a terrible job articulating the free-market message, and Davis consistently demagogued the important issue of trade.
A simple cursory view of the Davis campaign’s paid media revealed a common theme: that free trade is bad. “Both parties in Washington support trade agreements that ship our jobs overseas,” intoned the narrator of one. He’s critical of “trade deals like NAFTA” and he’s dedicated to making sure Washington “puts American jobs first.”
At the Club for Growth, we believe that people who are free to buy from, sell to, and invest with one another as they choose can achieve far more than when governments attempt to control economic decisions. Consumers reap the benefits of free trade: They receive lower prices, greater variety, and better quality. It’s an undeniable fact recognized by economists everywhere that global markets benefit companies large and small across America and have created millions of jobs.
One of Jane Corwin’s many problems was that she did not articulate a strong free-market message to voters that might have blunted the false scare tactics of Jack Davis. Corwin failed to convey a clear response to Davis’s position that protectionism and tariffs on China would protect American jobs. In fact, tariffs on Chinese goods are nothing more than a sales tax for upstate New York. Tariffs of any kind kill American jobs, and hurt our economy. Support for free trade is the principled position that’s supported by the facts, and yet the Corwin campaign didn’t seem to be in any hurry to stand on principle. In fact, in a TV ad released by the Corwin campaign at the end of March, Corwin said she would “oppose trade agreements that just aren’t fair.”
Maybe Jane Corwin really did believe in protectionism, and that’s her right. Either way, when Republicans nominate candidates who can’t articulate and won’t stand on free-market principles, they will continue to end up with the problems they are faced with in NY-26. Corwin was probably the best choice of the three candidates running — but her failure to stand on principle is what caused a safe Republican seat to fall into the hands of a liberal Democrat tonight.
— Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman, is the President of the Club for Growth.