The GOP Trade Disconnect, Laid Bare by Trump

Donald Trump has thrown Republican orthodoxy, from foreign policy to free markets, out the window. He's insulted and belittled the party establishment's champions. And he's trouncing them in the polls.

The party establishment is not taking the mass apostasy he's leading lying down.

During the GOP presidential debate in Detroit, the Republicans' heretic in chief was criticized for his proposed border wall, which Trump still insists Mexico will pay for. He was called out for changing positions on Syrian refugees; questioned on the size of his hands; questioned on everything. The hits came from rival candidates, debate moderators, and even from GOP elder statesman Mitt Romney, who that day devoted an entire speech to denouncing the whole of Trump's campaign.

That's the same Romney that accepted an endorsement from Donald Trump in 2012, and whose trade policy prescriptions that year are strangely similar to The Donald's now.

Don't believe it? Guess who - Romney or Trump - said this while running for president:

"I've watched year in and year out as companies have shut down and people have lost their jobs because China has not played by the same rules, in part by holding down artificially the value of their currency."

The mind truly boggles.

Now, one odd overlap on policy is not evidence of rank hypocrisy within the party. I'll leave it to others to unpack the other prickly issues in the GOP suite. But this point, this disconnect on trade within Republican politics, is telling - especially as voters head to the primary polls in states like Michigan.

Back in 2012, Romney's rhetoric on trade was brushed off as simplistic and naïve - easy to dismiss as political posturing by pundits with zero skin in the game. Romney's now carrying their water, suggesting precisely the same thing about Trump, saying it risks a trade war. But that's a colossal mistake.

How quickly the GOP Brahmin forget the real feeling out there among voters, many of whom trend to the right, that America's trade alignment is badly skewed.

There's plenty of evidence to support it. Consider that the goods trade deficit with China alone in 2015 was $366 billion. Is that how free trade is supposed to work?

Consider that Ford Motor Company just pulled out of Japan, citing closed markets. Consider that in domestic manufacturing, which is highly susceptible to trade fluctuations, hiring has been flat for a year, and that in certain corners of the sector, mass layoffs can be traced to Chinese mercantilism.

These are serious concerns in the industrial heartland. The polls bear it out. And the same old establishment script - cut taxes, deregulate, and get out of the way - isn't working. If Donald Trump carries the day in Michigan, I'd wager a bank roll that his policy-light yet ferocious promises to renegotiate America's trade deals will be a big reason why.

I completely disagree with nearly all of Donald Trump's professed policies. In fact, I find them to be repugnant, not to mention incredibly dangerous to our democracy. But he's got a real point on trade with China, as many others have also noted.

There are other presidential candidates who've been critical of China's trade policies: Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sec. Hillary Clinton, and Gov. John Kasich. But none scream it as loudly as Donald Trump, because, well, that's impossible. Still, look for this voter rebellion on trade to reach a crescendo -- for now -- in Ohio next week.

"Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud," said Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, to a crowd in Salt Lake City, and he received thunderous applause. "He's playing the members of the American public for suckers."

Is he? Or are they just wising up?