Opinion writer

I’m telling you, folks, if you think Donald Trump’s demagoguery on immigration has created problems for Republicans, just wait until he unveils his next act. If we get a Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, Trump may well roll out a whole new story about how Republicans and Democrats alike are conspiring with a shadowy cabal of international elites to help China and other foreign countries continue destroying the living standards of American workers.

It turns out Republicans are very worried about this.

The New York Times reports this morning that talks have resumed on the massive Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. This is often cast as a divisive issue in the Democratic presidential primary, which it certainly could end up being. But as I’ve argued, it could also produce serious divisions in the GOP presidential primary. Though it has received surprisingly little attention, Trump has previously attacked the TPP, and the Times’ Jackie Calmes makes these crucial points:

Even if agreement is reached this week, Congress will not debate and vote on it until late winter — in the heat of the states’ presidential nominating contests — because by law Mr. Obama cannot sign the deal without giving lawmakers 90 days’ notice.

…it is the rhetoric of Mr. Trump, given his celebrity appeal, that has Republican leaders more worried that a toxic trade debate could threaten vulnerable Republicans in 2016.

The TPP may be debated in Congress precisely when the voting is fully underway in the GOP presidential primaries. And Republican leaders are worried that Trump’s rhetoric against “free trade” will create complications for the party’s Senate incumbents, who would presumably want to vote to pass the deal. But that’s not all: the TPP could also provide Trump with a weapon to wield against his GOP rivals. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio support it. By contrast, Trump has railed against the TPP by warning that China will be given back-door access to the deal, further enabling China’s ongoing ripoff of American workers, and against international “free trade” deals in general by claiming we are being “defrauded” by other countries.

And in another signal, Trump gave an interview to John Harwood in which he claimed we are getting taken to the cleaners by a number of other countries, particularly China’s currency manipulation and tariffs. “Countries are taking advantage of us, big league,” Trump said. Thus, his attacks on the TPP could be seamlessly woven into the broader story that Trump is already telling, in which immigrants are to blame for the suffering of American workers. Trump can simply add international trade-negotiating elites, their enablers among the GOP presidential candidates and among Republicans and Democrats in Congress  — and a new version of the Chinese menace, which he has been heartily bashing already — to the cast of villains. (There will be plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize the TPP; Trump will likely opt for a lurid and xenophobic tack.)

If Trump does go this route, it will be interesting to watch, because it will test the assumption that GOP primary voters (many of whom already appear to agree with the tale he’s telling about illegal immigrants) agree with GOP orthodoxy on “free trade.” As Ron Brownstein has explained, Trump has built a particularly firm foundation among blue collar Republican voters. And Ed Kilgore has noted that Rust Belt and southern conservatives tend to be alienated by internationalist free trade talk. Who will these voters listen to on the Trans Pacific Partnership — Jeb Bush, who is trying to talk in reasonable tones about the virtues of lowering international trade barriers, or billionaire Trump, who is warning that foreign elites are looking to rip off American workers even more than they have done already?

********************************************************************************************

* JEB RIPS TRUMP’S TAX PLAN: The Jeb Bush and Donald Trump tax plans would both give huge tax cuts to the rich, which are supposed to unleash spectacular economic growth. On Morning Joe today, Bush said the following about Trump’s tax plan, which would reduce revenues by up to $10 trillion:

“Mine’s better because it’s focused on economic growth. The dynamic effect of that will create jobs and income…His static impact is $10 trillion. It will create such problems of deficits that it overwhelms the economic impact. That’s not a serious plan.”

Bush’s tax plan would reduce revenues by at least $3 trillion. “Your tax plan’s huge tax cuts for the rich would balloon the deficit a lot more than my tax plan’s huge tax cuts for the rich would” doesn’t seem like the greatest talking point.

* HILLARY CRANKS UP ATTACKS ON BENGHAZI PROBE: Yesterday the news broke that likely House speaker Kevin McCarthy boasted that the Benghazi probes drove down Hillary Clinton’s numbers. In an interview to air this Sunday on MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation,” she responds:

“When I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan political exercise, I feel like it does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost, but of everybody who has served our country.”

As I have argued, the Clinton campaign is moving to cast the GOP and media probes into her emails as part of a process she must weather to earn the public’s trust. The McCarthy slip-up may only help.

* REPUBLICANS RIP McCARTHY COMMENT: CNN reports that a number of House Republicans are laying into Kevin McCarthy for his revealing comments about Hillary and the Benghazi probes. Rep. Jason Chaffetz is demanding an apology; and Justin Amash is saying it should raise concerns about McCarthy’s bid to be Speaker.

It’s so inconvenient when a Republican in such a high place inadvertently gives away the game!

* SANDERS-MENTUM SURGES OUT OF CONTROL: Bernie Sanders just announced raising $26 million in the third quarter, almost as much as the $28 million haul posted by Hillary Clinton:

Clinton campaign officials maintained that they were pleased by her summer fundraising total, which came after she headlined dozens of high-dollar finance events and made an intense press for online donations. Aides noted that they are on pace to reach the goal of raising $100 million by the end of the year.

Of course, these talking points pale alongside Sanders’ ability to now boast that he has hit one million contributions faster than candidate Barack Obama ever did.

* BIDEN TO SKIP FIRST DEM DEBATE: CNN reports that Joe Biden is likely to skip the first Democratic presidential debate:

He is not preparing for the first Democratic debate on October 13 in Las Vegas and is not expected to participate, people close to him say, because he feels no pressure to reach a decision by then. He is likely to reveal his plans in the second half of October.

Mid-October seems awfully late to be launching, given the need to build an organization and raise so much money. This is not a guy who appears gripped by any sense of urgency.

* QUOTE OF THE DAY, HOW’S-THAT-GOP-MAKEOVER-GOING EDITION: The Mittster weighs in on the approach the GOP candidates (Trump, et. al.) are taking to minorities:

Romney said he is concerned that several candidates — he did not name names — have made statements “that some minority populations look at and say, ‘Wow, I guess they don’t like me very much.'”

And this concern about the state of GOP minority outreach is coming from a guy who’s “self-deportation” stance earned him 27 percent of the Latino vote.