Hillary's Surprising Debate Stumble on Trade
By Peter Certo
Bad trade deals created the social rot Donald Trump is exploiting today. So, why does Hillary Clinton continue to defend them?
In her first debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton delivered one of her more memorable one-liners when she quipped, “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president.”
Debate rules be damned, Clinton's supporters in the room cheered loudly, and the line quickly ricocheted across social media.
Indeed, Clinton was well prepared, especially compared to her blustery rival. Yet on one issue -- trade -- she seemed surprisingly caught off-guard.
Early on, when Clinton praised her husband's economic record, Trump shot back that Bill Clinton had signed the North American Free Trade Agreement -- NAFTA, for short -- which the GOP candidate called “the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country.”
It was a serious charge, since Hillary has often embraced Bill's business-friendly trade policies. So it was disappointing when the best response she could offer was, “Well, that's your opinion.”
Trump's not known for his factual precision, but worthier critics have tallied up NAFTA’s extensive failures since it became law two decades ago.
The first Clinton administration promised that NAFTA would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. In fact, the consumer rights group Public Citizen noted in a 2014 report, the deal killed a million U.S. jobs in its first decade alone, and created strong downward pressure on wages for what jobs remained.
Rust Belt states like Ohio and Michigan were especially devastated. Trade deals liquidated over half a million manufacturing jobs in those two states alone between 1994 and 2015. No wonder Trump mentioned the pair twice.
NAFTA also uprooted over a million Mexican workers, leading to an immigration crisis that seemed to pit low-wage Americans and low-wage Mexicans against each other. Meanwhile, it won big corporations some $360 million in judgments against public interest regulations like labor laws.
In short, deals like NAFTA accelerated the job losses, immigration tensions, and spiraling inequality that created the social rot Trump is exploiting today. Yet Clinton still defends the pact's legacy.
Pressing his advantage, Trump turned to the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP -- a 12-country trade pact negotiated by the Obama administration that critics have called “NAFTA on steroids.” Consumer groups and labor unions are lobbying hard against it.
And, as he courts blue-collar voters, so is Trump.
“You were totally in favor of it,” Trump accused Clinton -- correctly. Though she denied it at the debate, Clinton once called the TPP “the gold standard in trade agreements,” even as rights groups raised serious concerns about the power it would give corporations over everything from drug prices to food safety laws.
Mysteriously, the former secretary of state changed her mind about the TPP during the Democratic primary, announcing last year that she could no longer support it. Had she become a skeptic of corporate-friendly trade deals, or was she buckling under pressure from Bernie Sanders, who'd been hammering away at the TPP for years?
Nothing Clinton said in the debate gives any clue. But when Trump promised to “renegotiate” NAFTA, Clinton refused to follow suit.
If she still supports NAFTA, though, how can anyone trust her to block “NAFTA on steroids”?
For many of Clinton's supporters, it's enough that she simply isn't Donald Trump. But if she fends him off, she'll need to think long and hard about whether deals like these have any place in the “broad-based, inclusive growth” she says she wants for our country.
If she gets it wrong, the social cancers of job loss and xenophobia will only continue to fester. And we may yet see a “Trump on steroids” rise from the ashes.
Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org.
- Trump and Trade
- The Appeal of Trump's America First
- Obama's Presidency by the Numbers
- The Russian Honeypot
- Will Trump Get a Handle on Things?
- Draining the Swamp How-To Guide
- Exploding Inequality is Killing Democracy
- Calling Working People of All Colors
- Reducing Inequality in the Trump Era
- Donald Trump, the Middle East, and American Foreign Policy
- Jeff Sessions: Trump's Most Dangerous Cabinet Pick
- Trump and the Iran Nuclear Deal
- United States Presidential Inaugurations
- Trump Set To Become The Oldest President
- The American Public's Assessment Of Obama's Two Terms
- Obama's Legacy: Growth, Debt & Employment
- Trump Currency Bump: Jubilant Ruble & Declining Peso
- Trump and Israel: Big-League Issues and Huge Repercussions
- How Trump Changed Everything (2016-2020)
- The Crusades Are Back, With a Vengeance
- How Inequality Undermines Democracy
- Crony Capitalism Made Rick Perry Energy Secretary
- From Here to Dystopia
- Trump Taking on Wall Street, Literally
- Who Voted for Wall Street?
- Foreign Meddling in Our Vote
- Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un: Soul Brothers?
- The Pentagon's $125-Billion Cover-up
- The Year of 'Post-Truth'
- Americans Think Fake News Has an Impact
- American Cities With the Highest Murder Rates
- Populist Challenge and Political Judgement
- The Last Days of Democracy?
- Trump, China and Hawkish Campaign Rhetoric
- The Dangers of Big Philanthropy
- A New Populism in the Trump Era
- Explaining Donald Trump's Victory
- Political Earthquake With No Precedent
- What Election Analysts Can Learn
- How Obama's Legacy Lost the Election
- Big Money Won in 2016
- America's Dark Underbelly Is Now Its Face
- The Statue of Trumperty
- Trump Doesn't Sound Like Our Voice
- This Election Wasn't About Trump
- Bartleby the American
- Sorry, I Can't Give Trump a Chance
- Obama's Foreign Policy Legacy
- Uncle Sam Needs a Better Handle on Your Money
- Careful What You Wish For
- How to Strengthen Our Democracy Beyond Voting
- An Appetite for Action on Tax Reform
- Trump vs Clinton: The Final Round
- 2016 Election Results
- 2016 Election Polls & Results
- Trump is the Nation's Abuser-in-Chief
- Hillary Clinton and the Neocons
- How Voter Turnout Could Put Trump in The White House
- Trump the Arsonist
- Us vs Them: How Neurophilosophy Explains Our Divided Politics
- It's Rigged: Takes One to Know One
- Walling Them Out, or Walling Us In?
- A Historic Election for Women and Not Just Because of Hillary
- The Myth of Trump's Alternative Worldview
- Hillary Clinton: A Hawk in the Wings
- The Future of Civil Rights is Up To the Supreme Court
- How Accurate are Election Polls?
- What Would Happen If Donald Trump Decided to Challenge the Election Results
- Republicans Would Reject 'Rigged' Election Result If Hillary Clinton Wins
- My Trump-Like Bully
- Is Trump Committed to Democratic Rule of Law?
- Trump Was Born on Third Base
- Clinton Expands Into 'Red' States; Trump Again Claims Fraud
- Clinton Wins All Three Debates
- The Best and Worst Presidents on Taxes
- Revolutions Don't End On Election Day
- Hillary's Surprising Debate Stumble on Trade
- Scott Walker's Political Magic
- Prominent GOP Leaders Denouncing Trump
- The Reduction of Muslim Americans
- Wikileaks Offers Glimpse of Clinton Team's Early Thoughts on Trump
- Presidential Debate: Supreme Court, the Second Amendment & Abortion
- Presidential Debate: Immigration, Russian Involvement in the US Election
- Presidential Debate: Taxes, Trade Deals & Foreign Military Aid
- Presidential Debate: Presidential Fitness
- Presidential Debate: Foreign Hot Spots
- Forbes Pegs Trump's Wealth at $3.7 Billion, $800 Million Less Than Last Year
- Trump's 1995 Tax Records Suggest No Federal Taxes For Years
- Clinton Assails Trump in Blistering Debate
- Trump Unable to Capitalize
- Clinton's Odds of Winning Presidency Jumps
- Clinton vs Trump Debate by the Numbers
- Presidential Debate Reaction
- Presidential Debate Perspectives from Asia
- Trump's Debate Sniffles
- Clinton vs Trump Debate Photos
Politics: "Hillary's Surprising Debate Stumble on Trade"