Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mitt Romney: Catching the Protectionist Bug?

Has Mike Huckabee proved that populism is a winner in the Republican party? Is Mitt Romney afraid of being attacked as one of the 'Wall Street' Republicans? Has he read the recent Wall Street Journal article which attracted so much attention -- the one that reported on the weakening of support for free trade among GOP voters?

One can infer that he has, since one of his advisers -- the highly-intelligent, conservative former Congressman Vin Weber -- is interviewed by the Journal for the piece:

While rank-and-file Democrats have long blasted the impact of trade on American jobs, slipping support among Republicans represents a fresh warning sign for free-market conservatives and American companies such as manufacturers and financial firms that benefit from markets opening abroad.

With voters provoked for years by such figures as Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot, "there's been a steady erosion in Republican support for free trade," says former Rep. Vin Weber, now an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

One fresh indication of the party's ideological crosswinds: Presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas, who opposes the Iraq war and calls free-trade deals "a threat to our independence as a nation," announced yesterday that he raised $5 million in third-quarter donations. That nearly matches what one-time front-runner John McCain is expected to report

After reading that, it should be no surprise to see Romney back off of free trade -- in favor of action to redress the 'unfair playing field:'

Romney is clearly avoiding the traditional rhetoric of leading Republican contenders for the White House. No promises to 'open markets to US exports,' and 'expand markets for American products abroad.' He has chosen not to use this language for a reason. Is it because he wants to sounds more 'fair trade,' while pursuing the same policies (a bait and switch), or is it because he doesn't agree with the trade policies pursued by Republican presidents since the 1970s, at least.

If Romney wants a fair playing field, why doesn't he talk about US agricultural subsidies, import quotas, and the other measures the United States employs to protect our own producers (and of course, damage our consumers)? While the US is more of a free trader than many leading trading nations, we are hardly blameless.

That's not to say he should smile and accept violations on the part of US trading partners; the US pushed for the creation of the World Trade Organization specifically to punish unfair practices such as the one he mentions. Let Romney promise to push the WTO aggressively.

This sounds suspiciously like someone who wants to seize the votes that go with pushing protectionism, without actually using language specific enough to scare those who support consumer choice. I hope the governor gets the chance to clarify his meaning.

No comments: