We Were Warned: What the 2015 Trade Debate Said About the GOP

There has been a lot of ink spilled and bytes burned over the decay of the Republican ecosystem (including by yours truly), but every now and then, someone hits upon a canary in the coal mine that too many of us missed at the time (or that I just missed).

Brian Rosenwald provides one such example (regarding talk radio) in the Washington Post.

What enraged hosts and listeners the most was that, instead of going to war to defeat such dangerous ideas, establishment Republicans like Boehner were proposing them and trying to punish the few courageous conservatives who dared to fight back. That’s what happened to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) in 2015 when he voted against a procedural rule on a trade bill that would have given President Barack Obama authority to negotiate deals faster. Leadership’s attempt to punish Meadows enraged Levin, who called Boehner a “fool” and a “moron” and demanded: “We need a new Republican Party that’s principled, that’s conservative, that believes in America. Not this crap that goes on inside the Beltway.”

Keep in mind, this battle over trade – and Meadows’ protectionist turn – came before Trump descended his escalator to announce his candidacy.

Prior to that point in time, freer trade was a bedrock principle of the Republican Party. It was one of the reasons I became a Republican in the first place. I remember Rush Limbaugh (yes, you read that right) defending trade deals and freer trade in the 1990s. But that was then.

For conservatives focused on economic issues, the trade debate of 2015 was a sign that the GOP was not what we thought it was, and that we’d have to fight just to keep the term “conservative” out of the clutches of isolationist blowhards.

Donald Trump didn’t cause this. He saw it and took advantage of it.

I left the GOP about in May 2016. Looking back, I think I stayed too long.

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