Republican senator Jeff Flake's new book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” bashes President Trump for just about everything, but some of the harshest criticism in the book's 160 scathing pages is reserved for Trump's economic “plan.”
In Flake's eyes, Trumponomics is huge mistake. It shows the GOP has “abandoned its core principles” of free trade and free enterprise. “Seemingly overnight, we became willing to roll back the ideas on the global economy that have given America the highest standard of living in history,” Flake wrote.
The senator calls Trump a “crony capitalist” who is “incoherent” and “doing irreparable damage.” He even compares Trump to a liberal, saying all the president does is offer “easy answers and free stuff without worrying about the details.”
Here’s a rundown of Flake’s attacks on Trumponomics:
On trade: Flake accuses Trump of peddling an “impossible dream” that a bunch of coal and manufacturing jobs are coming back if America simply blocks Mexican cars and Chinese goods at the border.
“Rather than leaning in to the economy of the future, [Trump's] nativist vision would have us clambering to reclaim an economy of the past— an economy, by the way, that even if it were possible to somehow reconstitute would make no sense in the twenty-first century,” wrote Flake.
On manufacturing: Flake says Trump is merely playing up people’s worst fears; he's not offering them solutions that will actually work. The senator points out that the United States is producing “twice as much as we did in the 1980s with 30 percent fewer workers.” Automation and robots have caused most of the job losses, not China or Mexico. He says a better solution is to retrain workers.
On NAFTA: If Trump goes through with his plan to “rip up” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Flake believes the effects will be “seismic.” America won't create the jobs and industries of tomorrow. Even worse, China (among other countries) will step up to do trade deals if the United States won't.
Flake traveled to Mexico shortly after the 2016 election. He says he met with many top Mexican officials who were already talking to China about doing deals. “A trade policy made up primarily of nostalgia and tough talk would be devastating for the United States, doing irreparable damage to our wealth and standard of living,” Flake wrote. He notes that Mexico has free trade agreements with more than twice the number of countries the United States does.
On Trump’s ‘crony capitalism’: Flake is especially upset at the president's attempt to “meddle in the economy” by telling chief executives where to build new plants and whom to hire.
Trump relishes the news conferences where he stands side-by-side with CEOs and announces new jobs are coming, like the recent Foxconn deal to create at least 3,000 jobs in Wisconsin. The president believes he's using his dealmaking skills to help everyday Americans. Flake doesn’t see it that way.
“The new president would not merely demonstrate a preference for specific sectors of the economy, he would meddle in the economy by advocating for — or conversely, by intimidating — specific companies,” wrote Flake. “To conservatives, this is the essence of crony capitalism.”
The takeaway: The GOP is deeply divided. The rifts have been on display all summer, especially during the health-care fight. Flake’s book only adds to the tug-of-war between traditional Republicans who want to cut taxes and expand free trade, and Trump Republicans, who want to restrict trade and resurrect coal and manufacturing jobs.
The GOP’s internal strife is part of the reason Trump still hasn't managed to get a major bill through Congress, unlike the past four presidents, who all had major victories by mid-August.
Trump is highly unlikely to listen to Flake. Prominent GOP voices like Mitt Romney and Meg Whitman made very similar arguments during the 2016 campaign. They said Trump didn't have the temperament to be president and his economic ideas were a mess, but Trump believes he's already won the battle against traditional conservatives.
Last week, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that a key reason that he’s the one “sitting behind this beautiful desk” in the Oval Office is because he understands how badly America has messed up on trade. On the same day the Flake's book came out, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross penned an op-ed accusing China and Europe of ripping off America on trade.
It was also telling that Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, liked a tweet Tuesday from conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham, who says she can’t wait to campaign against Flake.
The problem for Trump is he has to win over more Republicans in Congress or his agenda won’t go anywhere.