President Donald Trump's new tariffs on Mexico may be shelved for the time being, but his trade war is very much still in full swing — and according to data from Goldman Sachs, the Chinese tariffs are now starting to push up consumer prices on everything from furniture to appliances to auto parts, hitting Americans in their pocketbooks.
While all of this is terrible news for the country, it could be good news for Democrats' election prospects, writes Neil Irwin of The New York Times' "The Upshot." In fact, he argues, it gives them an unprecedented opportunity to unite the center-left and populist left on free trade — an issue about which they are generally at odds.
"In battleground states mostly in the Rust Belt — Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — 39 percent of registered voters said they thought Mr. Trump’s trade policies were good for the economy, versus 47 percent who thought they were bad, according to a May Quinnipiac poll," writes Irwin. "You can imagine a trade pitch from the 2020 Democratic nominee that goes something like this: 'I'll work with allies to keep pressure on China over its unfair practices — but not with open-ended tariffs on thousands of goods that are a tax on American consumers and invite retaliation against American farmers. I won't use tariffs against countries that are our close partners. And I'll use trade policy to try to boost well-being for American workers, rather than using it as a cudgel on unrelated issues.'"
"It could prove a potent way to knit together a Democratic coalition that depends on both traditional labor-left voters in the industrial Midwest and college-educated suburbanites who are more comfortable with globalization," suggests Irwin.
If there were any issue on which it would be possible to realign the public this way, it would be trade, says Irwin: "Political science research suggests that the public tends to drift away from any president’s view on an issue when a big change is enacted." Moreover, "trade is an issue in which America’s views are not strongly anchored" — Trump was able to swing his own party in favor of protectionism in 2016 when he took aim at President Barack Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In an environment where Democrats are convinced they need an economic message to weaken Trump, this could well be it.