President Trump’s announced plan to pressure the Mexican government to stop the flow of migrants from Central America by imposing a blanket tariff on goods imported into the U.S. risks economic disruption, and political headaches for GOP incumbents on the ballot in 2020. This is particularly true in Texas, where incumbent Republicans already face a treacherous 2020 election in which their fates remain yoked to the President.
While media accounts have registered the protests of business and political elites, including some in Trump’s inner circle, tension between internationalist elites and Republican voters will be particularly acute in Texas. Polling finds the Republican base increasingly skeptical of the benefits of foreign trade, including with Mexico, and acutely concerned with border security.
Mexico is Texas’ number one foreign trading partner, accounting for just under 35% of the state’s exports, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve. Despite this, Texans have consistently expressed ignorance of (or indifference to) the impact that trade has on the state’s economy. When asked in a 2018 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll whether “the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, has been good or bad for the Texas economy,” only 17% of Texas Republicans had a positive response.
There is also evidence that attitudes about trade are not strongly held, suggesting that Republican elites who side with Trump in the short run could get caught by a shift in public opinion. Broad suspicion of trade in the GOP is a fairly recent development, and as recently as the 2018 UT/TT poll, 40% of Republicans didn’t express an opinion either way about NAFTA. A majority of those who did felt that NAFTA has had a negative impact on Texas’ economy. NAFTA itself has always taken a beating in some corners of the GOP, but the results of the 2016 election illustrate that the anti-free trade turn is fairly recent. Given the shifts in attitudes over time, we should expect Texas’ GOP voters to respond to the tariffs with a mix of partisanship, the tendency to follow the cues of the party’s figurehead and, in this case, antipathy towards illegal immigration.
Should tariffs be implemented and kept in place for an extended period, public opinion is likely to shift as the economic impact become evident. Oddly enough, Trump’s initial timetable would seem likely to trigger such a potential backlash in Texas just as voters turn their attention to the 2020 election.
However one evaluates the president’s or his voters’ understanding of trade economics, Trump has good reason to believe that in the short-run, Republican voters will be willing to accept a trade war with Mexico as an effort to halt the flow of migrants and immigrants across the southern border. In all polling of any recent vintage, Texans, and Texas Republicans in particular, overwhelmingly view immigration and border security as the top issues facing the state. In February 2019 University of Texas/Texas Tribune polling, 62% of Texas Republicans cited either border security (34%) or immigration (28%) as the number one issue facing the state, and in October 2018 polling, a majority (57%) felt that the Trump administration had not gone far enough in enforcing federal immigration laws.
Whether or not the president ultimately follows through with the proposed tariffs remains an open question. Given the above attitudes, Republican voters would, in the short run, positively view Trump’s demands on Mexico.
But the responses of the most prominent GOP leaders in Texas reflects their discomfort, as they are caught between their fear-based obeisance to Trump as the figurehead of the national GOP and the very real possibility that Texas — and those Republican voters — could suffer economically in the longer run. Gov. Greg Abbott’s statement, as quoted in multiple news outlets, illustrates the dilemma: “I’ve previously stated my opposition to tariffs due to the harm it would inflict on the Texas economy, and I remain opposed today. Nevertheless, the President is trying to address this emergency.” Others opined similarly, making sure they’re on the record that this is a bad idea while not [daring] to criticize the president who is pushing it.
For Texas Republican leaders, attempting to thread the needle while avoiding that confrontation risks appearing to agree to a policy that, despite the current configuration of public opinion, could turn a public with demonstrably shallow attitudes about trade and economics against the GOP as they head into their most challenging electoral cycle in recent memory. The delivery of mild property tax reduction and increased spending on public schools in 2019 are likely to fade into the background of an economic slowdown triggered by a Republican-led trade war with Mexico in 2020.
Disclosure: The University of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Obama calls for TV stations to take down lie-ridden Trump ad implying he said Biden is racist
On Wednesday, Politico reported that former President Barack Obama is demanding TV stations take down an attack ad from a pro-Trump super PAC that spliced his words out of context to imply he claimed former Vice President Joe Biden is racist.
"The Committee to Defend the President super PAC’s ad, which began airing Tuesday as part of a $250,000 ad buy, is the latest in a string of Republican efforts designed to torpedo Biden in an effort to keep him from facing President Donald Trump," reported Marc Caputo. "This ad aims at the majority black electorate in South Carolina, a must-win state for Biden, by misleadingly using Obama’s words from his 1995 book, 'Dreams from My Father,' to suggest that the former president believes his vice president supports 'plantation politics' that hurt African-Americans."
Christian Nationalism was the big loser of last night’s debate
If you’re pondering the question of who won last night’s final Democratic primary debate, one possible answer, depending on your perspective, is secular Americans. Religion, after all, hardly came up in the raucous affair hosted jointly by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute in Charleston, SC.
As divisive as Sanders is within some sectors of the party, a CBS News Instant Poll found that Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is nothing if not secular, made the best impression on Democratic voters who watched the debate. He was followed closely by Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg, with Klobuchar, Bloomberg, and Steyer bringing up the rear.
‘I Bough…—I, I Got Them’: Bloomberg Almost Admits to Buying Members of Congress
"When people show you who they are..."
Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg almost said during the Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina Tuesday night that he "bought" the 21 freshman members of Congress he financially supported in the 2018 midterm elections.
"Let's just go on the record. They talk about 40 Democrats," Bloomberg said, referring to the number of House seats Democrats gained in 2018. "Twenty-one of those are people that I spent a hundred million dollars to help elect. All of the new Democrats that came in and put Nancy Pelosi in charge and gave the Congress the ability to control this president, I bough—...I, I got them."