There is a reason why I have been saying that the Democrats need to have a more thoughtful discussion about trade. The party is not as unified on the issue as we are often led to believe.
As I’ve written previously, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (which is overwhelmingly Democratic), endorsed TPP. The reason, as Ron Brownstein pointed out, is clear.
New data released May 13 by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program helps explain the mayors’ tilt toward trade…Brookings found that fully 86 percent of U.S. exports now originate from urban areas. Moreover, exports drove more than one-quarter of all metro area economic growth from 2009-2014.
Here is how Christopher Cabaldron, Mayor of West Sacramento and chair of the Mayor’s Conference committee on jobs, put it:
Blocking trade agreements, Cabaldon notes, won’t stop the changes powered by the unrelenting forces of technological advance and global competition. “The notion that you can just freeze your metropolitan economy in place right now, or the way it used to be, is just a fiction we [mayors] can’t live with,” Cabaldon says. “So it’s a question of what are the tools we have to make the best of the opportunities, reduce the suffering from the dislocation and then figure out how to compete.”
As Brownstein also notes, there are electoral issues at stake.
These same population hubs are now increasingly indispensable to Democratic political fortunes. In 2012, Obama amassed more of his total victory margin in just his 100 best counties than any presidential winner since at least 1920. And Democrats now control the mayor’s offices in virtually all big cities—even in the reddest states.
Yet in their national debate, Democrats are elevating the protectionist sentiments of blue-collar workers who largely vote Republican over the desire for expanded trade in the growing urban centers that now anchor their electoral coalition.
This doesn’t mean that Democrats need to embrace a Republican view of trade. But it does mean that simply shouting “no” to trade deals and demagoguing the issue are not good enough.
Granted, trade deals are complex precisely because they have to deal with so many competing interests. But given a globalized economy, this is not an arena that Democrats can afford to walk away from. Like any other democratic process, it means that we need to inform ourselves, offer solutions and be prepared for the fact that compromise is inevitable. If our elected officials are not embracing that approach, they should be held accountable.
Perhaps a presidential campaign is not the best time to have that kind of difficult conversation. But as Brownstein pointed out, the way the issue is currently being framed means that a large part of the Democratic coalition is not being heard.