Washington Slept Here: How Donald Trump Caught the Politicians Napping on Trade

31 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2017

See all articles by Craig VanGrasstek

Craig VanGrasstek

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: January 2017


This paper explores how Donald Trump managed first to secure the Republican Party nomination, and then an upset victory in the general election, by running on an unapologetically protectionist platform. It argues Trump filled a political vacuum by taking positions long rejected by political professionals in both major parties and appealing to a class of potential voters that had been neglected. The analysis starts with a review of the decades-long economic transition in which producers of labor-intensive goods either became more international, thus switching from a protectionist to a pro-trade orientation, or died, thus becoming politically irrelevant. The net result was a reduction in the demand for and use of protectionist measures, and a steep decline in the political salience of trade (as measured in bills dealing with trade issues introduced in Congress, in the prominence of trade on White House agendas, and campaign promises to restrict imports). Trump recognized the large and untapped reservoir of potential votes in the post-industrial underclass that globalization left behind, and succeeded by prosecuting an unorthodox pro-protectionism campaign in which the usual sources of pro-trade campaign finance were rendered irrelevant.

Keywords: US trade policy; public policy; protectionism; US Presidential election

JEL Classification: D72; F13; J58

Suggested Citation

VanGrasstek, Craig, Washington Slept Here: How Donald Trump Caught the Politicians Napping on Trade (January 2017). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. RSCAS 2017/02, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2904952 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2904952

Craig VanGrasstek (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics