What Will Democrats Do if It Turns Out Trump Is Right on Trade?


President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Wheeling, W.Va., Sept. 29, 2018. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Democrats, particularly “red state” candidates like incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp and U.S. House candidate Mac Schneider, have placed a big bet on trade this election cycle. Specifically, they’ve positioned themselves to benefit politically from any news about chaos or failure from the Trump administration’s efforts to negotiate better international trade agreements.

Thus the news this morning that Canada has joined the United States and Mexico in a reformed North American Free Trade Agreement, while welcome to most of us particularly here in North Dakota…

…it us undeniably bad news for Democrats trying to win elections this cycle.

They needed Trump to fail. They needed chaos and uncertainty. That tact has served them well in recent months, given President Trump’s iconoclastic and belligerent approach to negotiations, but it has also put them in the position of losing when Trump’s policies are successful. As they appear to have been in negotiations with Canada and Mexico.

Not only are we on the verge of improved trade relations with our North American neighbors, but pinning down a sort of NAFTA 2.0 gives our nation more clout in negotiations with China.

Those realities, however, are going to be subsumed in a cloud of politics.

Expect our Democratic friends – up to and including Senator Heitkamp and candidate Schneider – to express skepticism about the trade agreement. Because what’s in their interest right now isn’t sound trade policy but winning an election.

Make no doubt about it, though. The NAFTA agreement is a big win for Trump, and a serious rebuttal to those who say Trump’s approach to this policy area has been unserious.