In a lengthy transcribed discussion in Politico about an upcoming documentary, former Obama deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, critiqued the Trump administration’s approach to diplomacy: “The America-first approach, if that is their organizing principle, is the opposite of where Barack Obama took that lesson. He took that lesson to what’s in the movie, which is we need to be diplomatically—we need to be in Laos and Vietnam, because that’s how we’re going to have to deal with China, not we’re going to retreat from TPP and get out of Asia.”
Elsewhere in the discussion, Rhodes elaborates, “the strategic consequences of leaving TPP, I think, are massive. When I think of the things that Trump has done, ironically, everything is sort of—we care so much about Cuba and the Iran deal. I think pulling out of TPP is just devastating. I think the Chinese have just a wide-open field in Asia now, and they’re doing their One Belt and One Road Initiative, and they’re setting the agenda.”
Apparently all of Washington has forgotten that Hillary Clinton pledged to get rid of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, too, not just President Trump. “I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” she said at a rally in Warren, Michigan on August 11, 2016. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”
No matter what happened on Election Day 2016, the United States was going to elect a president who opposed TPP.
Because of Clinton’s history, quite a few folks may have believed that she was lying when she declared she opposed TPP. As Secretary of State, she had called it the “gold standard.” Perhaps Hillary Clinton never intended to withdraw from TPP, and only pretended to oppose it to win votes in Rust Belt states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. (If that was the case, that approach failed miserably.)
Also in the conversation, Rhodes adds, “we were hoping we’ll get that in a lame duck if Hillary wins, and try to figure something out.” In other words, the Republican nominee ran against a particular trade deal, the Democratic nominee ran against the same trade deal, and the perspective of one of Obama’s top advisors was that the trade deal should be enacted anyway. That is some gourmet artisan cynicism there.
Bernie Sanders opposed TPP, too, meaning the Democratic Party was more or less unified in opposition.
The Democrats embrace anti-free-trade populism as much as the Republicans do. Rhodes and company are lamenting that Trump is opposing policies that the 2016 Democratic nominee wasn’t willing to defend or advocate, and not many Congressional Democrats are willing to defend or advocate free trade policies, either. One can’t help but feel that the Democrats are enraged by Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric in part because he’s doing their shtick better than they did. If Democrats – or Republicans! — want to enact more free trade deals, they need to stand up and make the case for why they benefit the country in aggregate, instead of winking and nodding and then attempting to ram them through in lame duck sessions.