Reihan: Rethinking Trade?

As someone who thinks the Republican party should move to the center on issues ranging from healthcare to inequality to taxes, I often point to the marked divergence between mass and elite Republican opinion on these and other issues. Consider this, from the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News Poll:

While 60% of respondents said they want the next president and Congress to continue cutting taxes, 32% said it's time for some tax increases on the wealthiest Americans to reduce the budget deficit and pay for health care.

This comes as no surprise to me, and I think this reflects an admirable appreciation of reality on the part of 60% of respondents. But the bad news is very bad:

Six in 10 Republicans in the poll agreed with a statement that free trade has been bad for the U.S. and said they would agree with a Republican candidate who favored tougher regulations to limit foreign imports.

Again, this shouldn't be surprising. As Brink Lindsey has argued, Republicans and Democrats alike tend to sell free trade exactly the wrong way, in crude mercantilist terms. Trade barriers

are a tax on American economic health for the benefit of narrow interests that cannot possibly justify their special immunity from market discipline. The fact that other countries have similar policies or worse is no reason for us to cling to our own folly.

Unfortunately, the current US trade agenda is increasingly more about imposing our (insane) intellectual property rules on the rest of the world and less about lowering our own trade barriers.

I tend to think we need is a trade and development agenda organized around building a global middle class and encouraging environmentally sustainable growth. I realize that this will sound very fishy to ardent free traders. Let me state for the record that I think we should unilaterally zero out all tariffs, and that any environmental rules should be settled upon by a multilateral process that is sensitive to the dangers of protectionism.