Jeet Heer’s recent essay in the Nation argues that the 2020 race has shifted the Democratic Party to the left. This can be seen with the profusion of progressive policy ideas. The policy chops of the leading 2020 Democrats are ostensibly stealing a page from progressive think tanks:

Warren and Sanders have yanked the conversation—and the party—sharply to the left. The upshot has been a Democratic Party that is more willing to argue over radical ideas than any other time since the days of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Nor are Sanders and Warren alone. Politicians often deemed moderate such as Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris have joined the policy arms race, with candidates trying to top one another with their competing plans to remake America. Suddenly the political conversation is dominated by ideas like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, student debt relief, free public college, statehood for DC and Puerto Rico, and even Supreme Court expansion. It’s telling that Warren has become a leading contender with the catchphrase “I have a plan for that.” Democratic voters seem positively hungry for plans.

Heer is much closer to the pulse of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party than I am, so I’ll take his word for most of the claims in the above paragraph. But it is noteworthy that the policy initiatives discussed by Heer have little to do with foreign affairs. That might be because voters don’t care about foreign policy. Or it might be that on foreign affairs, the story is rather different from the one that Heer portrays.

As noted multiple times in this space, progressives have taken a much more serious interest in foreign policy than in previous election cycles. As with domestic policy, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been at the forefront of staking out a set of policies that rejects both the neoconservatism of the GOP and the centrist hawkery of Hillary Clinton (Pete Buttigieg has also spoken out on these issues). This has led to some imaginative ideas. But I am not convinced that Democrats are gravitating to where Warren and Sanders sit on foreign policy.

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To understand what I mean, let’s take a gander at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ just-released report, “Rejecting Retreat.” (Full disclosure: I am on the foreign policy advisory board that consulted with and provided feedback to the survey team.) My Post colleagues Scott Clement and Dan Balz have already written about the survey, as has my fellow opinion writer Max Boot. Here’s a quick video summary:

What stands out in particular from the survey data is how gosh-darn keen everyone seems to be about international trade:

As Boot noted in his column, “for all of Trump’s vilification of U.S. trade partners, overwhelming majorities favor trade with Germany (87 percent), Japan (87 percent) and Mexico (83 percent). Seventy-four percent even support trade with China, despite — or because of — Trump’s trade war.”

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One of the drivers of this increased enthusiasm is that Donald Trump’s GOP supporters now equate trade with Trump-approved deals. A deeper dive into the numbers, however, reveals Democrats are even more keen about trade than Republicans. According to the Chicago Council, “compared with 2017, larger majorities also see trade deals as benefiting both the United States and other countries (63%, up from 51%), including majorities of Democrats (74%), Independents (59%), and Republicans (54%).”

This comes through even more clearly in Craig Kafura’s analysis of Sino-American trade: “Tariffs divide Americans sharply along party lines: 72 percent of Republicans support, and 71 percent of Democrats oppose, raising tariffs on products imported from China.”

Let’s see that in chart form!

The data here is incontrovertible and jibes with findings from Gallup and other polling outfits: Democrats have shifted toward being very positive about trade with the rest of the world, including China.

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One would think that this shift in public opinion — a shift that started before Trump, by the way — would prompt some of the 2020 candidate policy shops to sound more enthusiastic about trade with the rest of the world. This has not happened, however. Instead, we get dreck from Elizabeth Warren that looks about as protectionist as Donald Trump. We get Joe Biden sounding more hawkish toward China than he did a year ago. The best of the lot is Beto O’Rourke, but that is a low bar. For a group of candidates who claim they want to restore America’s standing in the world, they sure do seem reluctant to embrace one of the most obvious and reliable tools in the policy quiver.

Whenever I politely raise this point in online conversation, I am told that Democratic support for trade is shallow, or that the shift is a pure partisan reaction to Trump. Neither explanation is satisfactory. If there is a trend, it is that Democrats are more and not less enthusiastic about trade. If it is a pure partisan reaction, it seems like a smart candidate should weaponize that reaction rather than move in the opposite direction. Instead, Democrats are acting as though there is some trade-based interest group akin to the National Rifle Association that will nuke them if they express an iota of enthusiasm about globalization.

This is usually the moment in a Spoiler Alerts column when I explain what is going on. This time, however, I’ve got nothing. Democrats have grown far more comfortable with international trade than the candidates who want the party nomination. In a field this crowded, some of the leading candidates should gravitate toward that more popular policy position.

They have not. And I would really like to know why.

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