- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Donald Trump’s powerful stance against trade deals and globalization has just about everybody in the political arena squirming — everybody, that is, except Mr. Trump and the blue-collar supporters he will need to win the White House in November.

His fierce attack on the North American Free Trade Agreement and the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement exposed a gaping rift in the Republican Party that has been plastered over for years between pro-business Republican leaders and the party’s working-class voters.

The usually firmly Republican-allied U.S. Chamber of Commerce was looking for cover Wednesday after clashing with Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, over his anti-globalization agenda.

Republican elected officials who have always touted free trade didn’t know which way to turn.

Democrats scrambled to shore up support among their voters, who they feared would be lured away from the party’s likely nominee, Hillary Clinton, who has a history of backing trade deals that have turned unpopular.

Mr. Trump fired back Wednesday after the powerful business lobby criticized the real estate tycoon’s speech railing against NAFTA and TPP and threatening to crack down on China’s trade practices.

The Chamber accused Mr. Trump of changing his tune after a 2013 op-ed he penned for CNN that praised investment in Europe and mused that in the new global economy, “never before has the phrase ‘we’re all in this together’ had more resonance or relevance.”

“The @USCHAMBER must fight harder for the American worker. China, and many others, are taking advantage of U.S. with our terrible trade pacts,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

“Why would the Chamber be upset by the fact that I want to negotiate better and stronger trade deals or that I want penalties for cheaters?” he said in another tweet.

The Trump campaign also put out a fact sheet documenting that the billionaire businessman expressed qualms with trade deals as far back as the 1980s, including NAFTA, that he viewed as lopsided.

The Chamber’s communication team huddled Wednesday morning to determine how to respond.

“This is about policy, not politics,” Blair Latoff Holmes, the Chamber’s executive director of media relations, said in an email. “The Chamber has long supported advancing and expanding trade.”

Pressed about how the Chamber would proceed this year, after slating $10 million to help a handful of Senate Republicans in tough re-election bouts, Ms. Holmes said it wouldn’t get involved in the presidential race.

“For 104 years the U.S. Chamber has never gotten involved in a presidential race, and we do not plan to,” she said. “While we don’t engage in presidential elections, we’ve never hesitated to engage in a good policy discussion. This isn’t only criticism of Trump. We’ve been engaging in this policy debate for months with all of the presidential candidates.”

She noted that Chamber President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said in a recent TV interview, “We only have one president, and whoever it’ll be, we’ll support.”

Still, Mr. Trump’s tough talk on trade potentially struck a chord with blue-collar voters in key battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio and threatened to peel away support from Mrs. Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton has struggled with the trade issue. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, signed NAFTA in 1993. She has backed away from that deal as voters soured on it over the years.

She also was forced to withdraw support from TPP, a deal that includes a dozen Pacific Rim countries that she presided over as secretary of state and promised would be the “gold standard.”

Faced with opposition from Democratic voters and unions, as well as pressure from Mr. Trump, she now says she can’t support the TPP without changes, despite President Obama’s support for the deal.

Mr. Trump’s trade policies also alienated some down-ballot Republicans, such as Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey in Pennsylvania, both of whom are backed by the Chambers’ $10 million “Save the Senate” campaign.

Yet Mr. Trump’s populist rhetoric gave voice to working-class voters, who have often found themselves on the other side of the divide from business leaders and politicians both Republican and Democratic.

“It is a long-standing divide that is only growing bigger because of the role of globalization in the world economy and the U.S. economy,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican Party strategist and conservative activist.

He said the Chamber might want to get out of the way of the Trump Train in states such as Pennsylvania, where polls show Mr. Toomey leading in the Senate race and Mr. Trump tied with Mrs. Clinton in the presidential race.

“You wonder if the Chamber’s actually catching on to what is taking place here,” he said. “Maybe the Chamber might be better off to back Toomey in private and not be so public about it.”

In a clear sign that Mr. Trump had hit a nerve for Democrats, the liberal activist group Campaign for America’s Future moved to rally its voters against TPP and against Mr. Trump.

The group sent an email to supporters describing TPP as “the zombie trade agreement” and accusing Mr. Obama of trying to resurrect it for passage in a lame-duck session of Congress.

“Every time we kill it, corporate America finds a way to zap it back to life,” said the email. “Now it threatens to help install Donald Trump in the Oval Office.”

Campaign for America’s Future stressed that Mrs. Clinton “wanted to kill it.”

The email circulated a petition to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California demanding that she and other Democratic lawmakers persuade Mr. Obama to give up on TPP.

“Unless we can stop him he is handing a club to Trump to bash the Democratic nominee,” it said.

Mr. Trump has confronted Mrs. Clinton on the issue, including issuing a challenge to match his pledge to withdraw from the pact and rule out its passage in any form.

The Trump campaign highlighted the challenge again Wednesday.

Mr. Trump doubled down on his trade agenda in a speech in Bangor, Maine. He declared that he is “all for free trade” but against the bad deals such as TPP, and he took another swipe at the Chamber.

“The U.S. Chamber of commerce is totally controlled by the special interests groups, folks, just so you understand,” he said. “And they are a special interest that want to have the deals they want to have. They want to have TPP.”

He warned that TPP would be “a disaster.”

“It will be the worst deal since NAFTA. It will drain the rest of your business out of Maine, believe me,” said Mr. Trump.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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