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Republicans Are Divided Over Trump's Stance On Trade


President Trump is on to his second summit in just a matter of days. At a G-7 summit in Canada, he said, while he dreams of free trade in theory, he will not hesitate to slap tariffs on close allies and trading partners. And now Trump is sitting down with the leader of a country, North Korea, that his Republican predecessor George W. Bush listed as part of an axis of evil. Let's talk this over with a conservative writer. Matthew Continetti is editor-in-chief of the conservative Washington Free Beacon. And he's in our studio this morning. Matthew, welcome.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So the Republican Party has been known as the party of free trade over the years. Are those days gone with this president?

CONTINETTI: I think they might be. And I think they've been declining for some time.


CONTINETTI: Yeah, well, it's certainly one of the reasons President Trump won this nomination - was his position on free trade or what he calls fair trade or reciprocal trade. From the outset, he wanted to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He has been a vocal critic of NAFTA for some 25 years since it was implemented. In fact, when you look at President Trump's views over the course of his life, the one consistent position I think we could say is his opposition to what he calls America's unfair trade deals. So sadly what happened over the weekend was not much of a surprise for longtime observers of Trump.

GREENE: Well, what does this mean for the party then? I mean, you have, you know, Republican Senator Bob Corker, for one, who is trying to roll back the president's powers to use trade policy, which is pretty extraordinary especially, you know, for a lawmaker from the president's own party. I mean, given these divisions, is the Republican Party really losing sort of an articulated vision on a subject like this?

CONTINETTI: Well, I think one trend we've seen over the last several years is that great divide between Republicans in kind of the upper reaches of the party and then, of course, the actual voters who tend to be much more protectionist and much more on President Trump's side on this. I thought it was very revealing this past weekend. John McCain, of course, also criticized some of President Trump's actions during the G-7 summit. And Lindsey Graham, McCain's dear friend, said, well, I have to correct, John - he said - you know, because the truth is while there are plenty of people who support free trade and globalization, there are many, many more - not only in the Republican Party but also let's not forget in the Democratic Party where Bernie Sanders has many of the same positions as Donald Trump - came in second. Hillary Clinton renounced the TPP, which her former boss President Obama negotiated by the end of the campaign. So there is a growing protectionist tide in this country. And one has to wonder though whether President Trump is capitalizing on it or doing the correct policies to implement and assuage it than he is trying to do.

GREENE: Doesn't this show a real disconnect between the party and voters if what you're describing is the case?

CONTINETTI: A huge disconnect that President Trump has exploited for several years.

GREENE: And isn't that a problem for your party?

CONTINETTI: Well, I mean, it may be a problem in the future. So far, it's been fine for President Trump. You know, the striking thing is he is now the second most popular president at this point in his presidency among Republicans, according to a Gallup poll. Only George W. Bush after 9/11 was more popular among Republicans than President Donald Trump is today. So I think he views the situation as having a lot of room to joust against kind of the establishment in the Republican Party. And that's worked out for him in the past.

GREENE: Let me ask you one or two questions perhaps about the summit of the moment with North Korea. You wrote recently that maybe the United States can start to change North Korea's behavior with the summit. But at worst, the summit will send this sort of mixed signal that has led to disaster. What kind of disaster could this summit lead to?

CONTINETTI: Well, war - I mean, that's the ultimate disaster, right?

GREENE: The summit could lead to war?

CONTINETTI: I mean, in the long history of civilization, you often find situations where mixed communications - leaders interpreting words or actions in a way that they were not intended to be interpreted. And ultimately, that can cause miscommunication, misconception and conflict. And so I do worry about that in this summit, which is how our President Trump and Kim Jong Un are going to interact - especially when they're alone and private. And will either leaders say something that the other will interpret in a very wrong way?

GREENE: Well, briefly, should President Trump be taking this risk then?

CONTINETTI: I've always been skeptical of this summit. And, of course, President Trump, as you see in trade, has always been a risk taker. And once again, he's kind of throwing his fate to the wind. We shall see.

GREENE: Matthew Continetti is the editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon joining us this morning. Thanks so much.

CONTINETTI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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