On trade policy, Trump is turning the GOP orthodoxy on its head

In this July 26, 2018, photo, President Donald Trump acknowledges the audience after speaking at the United States Steel Granite City Works plant in Granite City, Ill. Trump's trade policies are turning long-established Republican orthodoxy on its head. There are tariff fights, and thereÕs now $12 billion in farm aid that represents the type of government intervention GOP voters railed against a decade ago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s trade policies are turning long-established Republican orthodoxy on its head, marked by tariff fights and now $12 billion in farm aid that represents the type of government intervention GOP voters railed against a decade ago.

President George W. Bush increased the number of countries partnering with the United States on free trade agreements from three to 16. President Ronald Reagan signed a landmark trade deal with Canada that was later transformed into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and expanded to include Mexico. Both those Republican presidents also enacted tariffs, but their comments on trade were overwhelmingly positive.

“We should beware of the demagogues who are ready to declare a trade war against our friends, weakening our economy, our national security and the entire free world, all while cynically waiving the American flag,” Reagan said in a 1988 radio address.

Trump, by comparison, has called NAFTA “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere,” and his administration has opted to use tariffs as a tool intended to leverage more favorable agreements with virtually every major U.S. trading partner. He shredded the trade agreement the Obama administration tried to work out with Pacific Rim nations that had strong backing from farm groups and chief executives from major U.S. corporations.

Republicans also have altered the priority of tackling the national debt, an issue the GOP hammered President Barack Obama on as the country struggled to recover from the 2008 economic crisis. “Our nation is approaching a tipping point,” GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, now the House speaker, said in January 2011 when the national debt hit $14 trillion.

Today, the Congressional Budget Office projects the $21 trillion debt will rise to more than $33 trillion in 10 years. That estimate notes that the tax cut lawmakers passed in December would increase economic output but add $1.8 trillion to the deficit over the coming decade.

The GOP’s evolving priorities are not lost on some in the party. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who lost a close primary election this year after butting heads with Trump on some issues, said he finds it “perplexingly destructive” for the GOP brand.

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