Clinton, Trump and trade: The curious case of the Democrat attack dogs that didn't bark
Why didn't the Democrats go after Trump on trade? Because they agree with him
In a creepy tale of murder on a misty moor, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tells how the great Sherlock Holmes spotted a vital clue.
Holmes advises a Scotland Yard detective to consider "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
The detective protests that, "the dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That," Holmes responds, "was the curious incident."
All quiet on the NAFTA front
It is, of course, a well-worn tale. Even so, a great many detectives are analysing Hillary Clinton's convention speech without mentioning what didn't happen.
Trump has certainly gone after Clinton as a closet free-trader, saying she endorsed the proposed transpacific trade agreement as secretary of state, and has since flip-flopped insincerely to grub for votes.
The Republican nominee also points the finger at Bill Clinton, who signed NAFTA as president in 1993. By contrast, Trump insists he will rip it up if Canada and Mexico don't agree to his terms.
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"I would pull out of NAFTA in a split second," Trump says. "It's the worst trade deal ever signed in the history of this country and one of the worst trade deals ever signed anywhere in the world. NAFTA is a disaster."
It depends what you mean by 'disaster'
Trump is correct, if "disaster" means a boom in trade for the U.S. and for its partners. In NAFTA's first twenty years, the U.S. added 30 million new jobs and its exports to Canada tripled to $300 billion. Canada's exports to the U.S. grew just as rapidly, from $111 billion to $346 billion.
Not all of that is NAFTA's doing — but much of it surely is. Which makes any plan to rip up NAFTA a very big deal and bigger still when both the U.S. political parties are running it down.
That, of course, is why, despite a parade of Democrats who stepped up in Philadelphia to condemn Trump, not one dog barked about his threat to trash NAFTA.
On the contrary. Never mind that NAFTA was a bipartisan project from the start — initiated by the first president Bush and ratified by Bill Clinton with big majorities in both Houses. Now, hostility to NAFTA — indeed, hostility to free trade in general — unites the warring parties.
"If you believe that we should say 'no' to unfair trade deals," she cried, "that we should stand up to China … that we should support our steelworkers and autoworkers and homegrown manufacturers … join us!"
Cynics will say — and Trump does say — don't believe her. The Bernie supporters, too, have their doubts. After all, in 2008, Barack Obama also ran on a promise to renegotiate NAFTA — but forgot about it once elected.
Flip, flop and flip again?
So it's a fine old tradition to beat up on NAFTA when on the hustings, but not in office. Will Hillary Clinton follow the pattern? Perhaps. But it won't be easy to flip, flop and flip again while damning Trump as a phoney who'll say anything to get elected.
So even Sherlock Holmes might be unsure about how this ends. He did deductions about the past, after all, not predictions about the future.
But he'd definitely notice when the dogs should be barking, and don't.