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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Ginger Gibson

Presidential candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday lashed out at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s scathing criticism of his stance on trade, highlighting divisions within the Republican Party that threaten unity ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

At a campaign rally in Maine on Wednesday, Trump called the nation’s largest business association “controlled totally by various groups of people who don’t care about you whatsoever.”

He said new trade deals should be negotiated because foreign countries are taking advantage of America.

“Every country that we do business with us look at us as the stupid people with the penny bank,” Trump said Wednesday at the rally in Bangor, Maine.

The Washington-based lobbying group, which represents the United States’ largest companies and business interests, is typically a reliable backer of Republican policies.

But on Tuesday it took issue with Trump’s vocal opposition to trade deals, calling his proposals “dangerous” ideas that would push the United States into another recession.

Trump said the Chamber’s argument that his policies would cause a trade war were incorrect because the United States was already at a deficit.

“We’re already losing the trade war, we lost the trade war,” Trump said. “Nothing can happen worse than is happening now.”

In speeches on Tuesday, Trump called for renegotiating or scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico, calling it a job killer, and reiterated opposition to the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. He also lambasted China’s trade and currency policies.

The Chamber has consistently backed trade deals.

The public squabbling between the presumptive Republican nominee and the business group was unusual, one of a series of reminders that Trump still struggles to unite his party behind his campaign. The Republicans and many business leaders tend to share policy goals and work in lockstep, and many business leaders have traditionally been big donors to Republican candidates.

So far, the Chamber’s political action committee has donated $134,000 to federal candidates or their committees, with $127,500 of that total going to Republicans, according to U.S. government campaign finance records.

Billionaire Republican donor Paul Singer, who bankrolled an effort to try to defeat Trump during the campaign’s nominating phase, said on Wednesday that a Trump presidency and his trade positions would almost certainly lead to a global depression.

“The most impactful of the economic policies that I recall him coming out for are these anti-trade policies,” Singer said during a panel discussion at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, according to CNBC.

But opposing trade deals has proven a winning strategy for Trump among voters concerned about the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Art Laffer, an economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan who supports Trump, said he did not like the tone of Trump’s speech on Tuesday but thought it was an improvement over his past comments on trade.

“It’s not terribly alarming to me,” Laffer said. “I didn’t see any 45 percent tariffs across the board. …

“I saw negotiating better trade deals rather than throwing away all the trade deals we have now. He points out the flaws in these trades, and that’s all true,” Laffer said. “I don’t like the tone of it, but I dislike the tone less today than I did three weeks ago.”

Peter Navarro, a Trump trade policy adviser, defended the candidate’s position.

“Here’s the central point to understand: The White House has been utterly and completely soft on China’s illegal trade practices,” said Navarro, a professor at the University of California, Irvine. “The status quo is the worst of all possible worlds for the United States.”

Trump also took fire from for his positions on trade from Democrats.

In a call organized by rival Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, a former businessman and tech entrepreneur, said that while the country needed to do a better job protecting workers, more resources should be put into training them for a new economy.

He also noted that it was unusual to see a Republican standard-bearer and the Chamber divide.

“You’ve really got a special circumstance when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce” responded to Trump’s economic plan with a “full-fledged onslaught,” Warner said. “No one could have predicted this kind of election season.”

Clinton held no public campaign events on Wednesday but did announce she would appear next week with President Barack Obama, the first time this year that he and his former Secretary of State have campaigned together.

 

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson, Grant Smith, Amanda Becker, Alana Wise and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures while delivering a speech at the Alumisourse Building in Monessen, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 28, 2016. REUTERS/ Louis Ruediger

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.