The Trump era reveals not all free traders like all free trade deals. Trump’s unusual fusionism has put anti-WTO libertarians on the spot.
Matt Welch writes in the March issue of Reason:
Donald Trump campaigned more vigorously for tariffs and against trade agreements than any major-party nominee, Democrat or Republican, since at least World War II. In setting his sights on the postwar trading order, the 45th president is being bolstered by an unusual bloc of supporters: free traders against trade agreements.
During the campaign, Trump called the North American Free Trade Agreement “one of the worst economic deals ever made by our country.” In early December, the president-elect promised “retribution,” including a “tax on our soon to be strong border of 35%,” directed at “any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S.” Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.), arguably one of the two most libertarian members of Congress, reacted as you might expect: with a cutting tweet. “This would be a 35% tax on all Americans—a tax that especially hurts low-income families,” he wrote on the platform. “Maybe the slogan should be #MakeAmericaVenezuela.”
But that second congressional libertarian, Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.), reacted quite differently. “Bilateral trade agreements are a wonderful thing,” Massie tweeted at me, after I criticized the new GOP positioning on tariffs. “Global government, not so much.”