Republican John McCain is most militantly pro-free trade presidential candidate. That fact, alone, should guarantee his defeat in Ohio and other industrial states where his strategists entertain hopes of surfing a “Reagan Democrat” crossover of working-class Democratic voters to the GOP column this fall.
All that is required is that Barack Obama campaign as a critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement and other deals that have battered workers, farmers, communities and the environment in the US and abroad.
Unfortunately, Democrat Barack Obama, who sent so many smart signals on trade issues when he was competing with Hillary Clinton for his party’s presidential nomination, appears to now be backtracking toward the insider territory occupied by McCain.
Obama’s interview with Fortune magazine — headlined “Obama: NAFTA Not So Bad After All” — is the best news the McCain camp has received since Mike Huckabee folded his run for the Republican nomination.
If Obama takes the economic issue that white working-class voters best understand off the table, he creates a huge opening for McCain in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
And that is precisely what the Democrat cynically dismisses his appropriately anti-NAFTA rhetoric during the primary season as “overheated and amplified.”
In her interview with the candidate, Fortune‘s Nina Easton reminded Obama that earlier this year he had called NAFTA “devastating” and “a big mistake” and suggested that he would use an opt-out clause in the trade agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico to demand changes that would be more favorable to workers and farmers in all three countries.
Obama replied that, “Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified” — which would have been enough of an indication that he was backing off the stance that contributed significantly to his success in the February 19 Wisconsin primary that proved to be a critical turning point for his campaign.
But the presumptive Democratic nominee for president dug the hole deeper.
“Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don’t exempt myself,” he continued, suggesting that those who doubted his sincerity when he denounced NAFTA in a speech to Janesville, Wisconsin, autoworkers might have been right.