Standing against a bizarre backdrop of transparent plastic bags filled with aluminum cans, Trump made clear that economic nationalism will be the core of his domestic agenda in the election. He lambasted trade deals like NAFTA, while promising to use the powers of the presidency to reassert trade dominance. “Fifty thousand factories across America have shut their doors in that time,” Trump complained. “It was also Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, who shoved us into a job-killing deal with South Korea in 2012.”
This is a very odd message for a Republican to make, since the party has embraced free trade for decades. In bolstering his case, Trump pointedly quoted Bernie Sanders, a nod to the political realignment the presumptive Republican nominee needs to win the presidency. Trump’s bold gambit has the possibility of throwing longstanding coalitions in both parties in disarray. While Trump’s message might appeal to some working-class Democrats, it also alienates the business lobby. The Chamber of Commerce has expressed horror at Trump’s brazen calls for protectionism. One of the big questions of the election will be whether Trump’s brand of economic populism gains him more votes than it loses him.