Pat Toomey is your classic, pro-trade Republican. The former president of the free trade-promoting Club for Growth has backed a slew of trade deals during his 12 years in Congress, and last year he even praised President Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership as an economic boon that would help Pennsylvania’s economy.
Then along came Donald Trump and his America-first, trade-bashing platform. Now Toomey — among the most vulnerable incumbent Republicans up for reelection this fall — is urging Obama to dump the TPP.
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Toomey has plenty of company among Republicans on the Senate ballot. The GOP’s unshakable faith in free trade has been decidedly broken in the year of Trump — with everyone from a former U.S. trade representative, Rob Portman of Ohio, to free-market devotee Marco Rubio of Florida striking a much different tone.
Indeed, the upended politics of trade offer a major conundrum for establishment-minded Republicans running for reelection this year, particularly in Rust Belt states that could help determine control of the Senate next year. Perhaps more than any other issue, trade has illustrated the tightrope GOP candidates have to walk in trying to appeal to Trump-fueled voters while not abandoning the GOP’s core economic principles.
“I’ve always believed that you actually have to get an agreement that merits the support,” Toomey said in an interview when asked whether his TPP opposition was inconsistent with his record. Pointing to its dairy and intellectual property provisions, Toomey, who was careful never to explicitly endorse the trade deal as it was being negotiated, added: “There are real problems with TPP.”
Of the Republicans who are running in the most closely watched Senate races this cycle, just …