August 28, 2020 1:12PM

The Republican Party’s Confusion on Trade

There’s been a lot of talk this week about what today’s Republican Party stands for. Is it still the Buckley‐​Reagan fusionist platform of of lower taxes, less regulation, traditional values, and a strong national defense? Is it George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”? Trump’s “America First,” which always seemed less ideological than most platforms? The talk heated up when the GOP announced that it wouldn’t produce a party platform for the first time in memory, and the Republican National Committee unanimously voted in lieu of a platform its “undivided support for President Donald J. Trump and his effective Presidency”:

The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump and continues to reject the policy positions of the Obama‐​Biden Administration, as well as those espoused by the Democratic National Committee today; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America‐​first agenda.

So much for those musty old fights where delegates came from around the country to fight over whether their party should support civil rights, detente, or the gold standard.

I was particularly struck by a fundraising questionnaire I received in the mail last week from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. After some demographic questions and some Republican boilerplate, I got to these two questions:

17. Do you think it’s a good idea to renegotiate international trade deals to make sure we are leveraging our power in favor of American workers and U.S.-based companies?

18. Generally, is there too much government involvement in our free enterprise system?

I assume the NRSC expects recipients to offer a hearty “yes!” to both those questions. But of course they represent diametrically opposed views. Is there too much government involvement in our free enterprise system? Yes: the government should stop telling me what I can buy and from whom. I’d like to be a delegate to a hypothetical Republican convention with a hypothetical debate on the party platform. I’d stand up and say, paraphrasing Hubert Humphrey’s famous 1948 convention speech:

The time has arrived in America for the Republican Party to get out of the shadow of mercantilism and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of free trade and free enterprise.

At this year’s virtual convention there was a lot of talk about “freedom” and “liberty.” And also a lot of talk about restricting Americans’ right to trade with people in other countries. The president once again insisted that “other countries take advantage of us on trade” and denounced agreements that would reduce trade barriers.

When you don’t even debate ideas, you can end up thinking that you support both less government involvement in our free enterprise system and increased barriers to peaceful trade among individuals.