The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Defying Republican orthodoxy, Trump trashes trade deals and advocates tariffs

Donald Trump on Tuesday channeled more than a year's worth of fiery and freewheeling protectionist rhetoric into an uncharacteristically disciplined address, putting him out of step with decades of conservative economic orthodoxy and even some of his own prior positions.

Speaking in a warehouse filled with piles of compressed aluminum cans and scraps of metal, Trump ticked through a seven-step plan to boost domestic job growth that included renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, labeling China a currency manipulator, and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and preventing its implementation.

At a rally in Ohio hours later, Trump said the trade pact was being “pushed by special interests who want to rape our country,” repeating “rape” several times.

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee mentioned Britain’s recent decision to leave the European Union, saying that “our friends in Britain recently voted to take back control of their economy” and that “now it’s time for the American people to take back their future.” Quoting Founding Fathers and former presidents, Trump said international trade agreements have left American workers behind.

“On trade, on immigration, on foreign policy, we are going to put America first again,” Trump said. “We are going to make America wealthy again.”

He also took sharp aim at presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by invoking the populist attacks she has faced from her rival in the primaries, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

“People who rigged the system are supporting Hillary Clinton because they know as long as she is in charge, nothing’s going to change,” Trump said.

The speech highlighted one of the key areas of disagreement pitting Trump against business leaders and establishment Republicans, who for decades have advocated free-trade policies and have generally opposed tariffs and other measures.

It also came amid a period of upheaval in Trump’s campaign that many backers hope will lead to a more policy-focused operation. He fired his campaign manager last week after months of internal turmoil and on Monday brought on a pair of experienced communications operatives.

While large, boisterous rallies remain Trump’s signature campaign setting — the mogul held one Tuesday night in eastern Ohio — he is giving structured policy talks more frequently.

While Trump spoke, the nation’s largest business lobby rebutted him on social media. “Setting Things Straight: NAFTA has NOT been a disaster for the U.S.,” read one tweet from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce linking to a more detailed Web page. Another said, “You heard from Trump on trade, here’s what you really need to know.”

In the past, Trump has adopted a notably less protectionist posture on trade and outsourcing. In a 2005 blog post on the website for the now-defunct Trump University, the mogul wrote: “We hear terrible things about outsourcing jobs — how sending work outside of our companies is contributing to the demise of American businesses. But in this instance I have to take the unpopular stance that it is not always a terrible thing.”

During his speech, Trump repeatedly singled out Clinton for criticism. He also slammed former president Bill Clinton for signing NAFTA, which Trump said was one of the worst developments of his administration.

And he said Hillary Clinton “has betrayed the American worker” and would do it again.

The Clinton campaign moved vigorously to counter Trump's speech, holding a conference call with reporters featuring Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) hours before Trump spoke. During his speech, Clinton tweeted a close-up picture of the collar of a Donald J. Trump Signature Collection shirt. "Trump's speaking about outsourcing right now. Here's one of his shirts — made in Bangladesh," her tweet read.

Tensions between the two sides were already running high before Trump spoke. Michael Cohen, Trump’s special counsel and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, launched an aggressive social-media attack on Clinton earlier in the day, tweeting an image that claimed she “murdered an ambassador” — a reference to the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the 2012 attacks on a diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton was secretary of state at the time.

Cohen wrote in an email afterward that he does not speak for the Trump campaign. “My tweets are mine and mine alone,” Cohen said.

The attack came the same day that a final report written by a GOP-led House select committee offered no new evidence of specific wrongdoing by Clinton pertaining to the Benghazi attacks.

A week ago, Trump tweeted, “If you want to know about Hillary Clinton’s honesty & judgment, ask the family of Ambassador Stevens.” A campaign spokeswoman did not respond when asked whether Trump agreed with Cohen’s tweet.

Here in Monessen, a handful of protesters chanted anti-Trump slogans outside as he started to speak. Several older men and women who said they were supporting Trump also stood under the sun outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of the mogul.

Trump supporter Jim Bower, 74, said that while he has serious reservations about Trump’s rhetoric and his “dumb mistakes on the campaign trail,” he does not trust Clinton. “I don’t want to vote for Hillary,” he said. “But I’m not happy about voting for Donald.”

Sullivan reported from Washington. Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.