Donald Trump campaigned on America’s “devastating trade policies” to great effect. Rounding out his campaign with his “American carnage” inaugural address which gestured to the decades long impact of those very trade policies. Trump isn’t the only politician who campaigns heavily on the negative consequences forced on workers due to ill-crafted trade policy, Bernie Sanders obviously used it to great effect against Hillary Clinton. And while this forced Clinton to shift to an ostensibly anti-TPP position, her pro-trade past was already baked in.
In 2020 the same is true for Joe Biden and if Joe Biden wins the primary, in terms of trade, it’ll likely look eerily similar to 2016 (it’s as if the Democrats didn’t learn anything.) A Bernie Sanders (and others) attack line turned into a handy Trump bludgeon, bolstered by the fact that Joe Biden genuinely does have pro-corporate bona fides which in states like those in the industrial midwest ultimately rejected Hillary Clinton for. Add to that, it all comes at a time that Donald Trump has taken direct action against China, openly, publicly, and for months. Setting himself up as the perfect foil for Joe Biden should he win the primary.
Obviously Trump’s trade war has been a long, slow moving back and forth and the groundwork was set long before Trump even came to power. That said, his anti-trade, anti-NAFTA, anti-CAFTA, anti-TPP rhetoric was key to his victory. It left Hillary Clinton untouchable and painted the world in a clear “us against the elite who left us out to dry” tone. That tone and it’s emotional impact is something Trump continues to take advantage of to this day.
Whether on Twitter or as a line in a stump speech, Trump is letting his base know that he stood against Xi Jin Ping, he stood up to China, and he’s continuing to do so. While politicians like Sleepy Joe Biden set him up to fight this fight to begin with and will do so again. It’s a different critique than the pro-Corporate, “he’s in the pocket of big money” sort of line Bernie Sanders will push. The impact is the same though, people will know Joe Biden is at least partially responsible for the degradation of their community.
For Joe Biden’s part, on issue after issue, he is seemingly unable to honestly deal with the disaster that is the status quo for so many people. Largely because to do so is to admit his role in that disaster. Which is exactly why, especially on trade, an issue “midwest blue collar Joe” should do very well, he simply won’t be able to. Joe Biden wants to bring the fight to Trump to the upper-midwest, but once those voters know who Joe has actually been fighting for all along, that fight will be incredibly one sided.
Especially given Trump’s aforementioned continued trade war with China. Which in effect might actually hurt those he claims to help more than it actually helps, but as political theater goes, it’s incredibly adept. Tweet after tweet, speech after speech, day after day where “market analysis” sections of the nightly news discuss Trump’s “trade war with China.” All of these beckon to a promise kept. I could go into why I find Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric very different, and very problematic compared to someone like Bernie Sanders’ but that’s a different discussion.
This is about Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Even if he’s a hypocrite to call him out on it, Trump has Biden dead to rights when it comes to trade in the minds of millions of voters. Largely because, and credit where it’s due, Trump is a master of theatrics. He knows how to keep a crowd’s attention, he knows how to make people feel special, he knows how to make his base feel seen, and his trade war with China does all of that. With the added benefit of also serving to knock Joe Biden down a peg.
And that’s a dynamic we will see a lot of between now and November 2020.