| Jocelyn Augustino, American Media Institute

GOP debate highlights shift on free trade

The remaining Republican presidential candidates staged their 12th debate of the campaign season Thursday night in Coral Gables, Florida, and it was, even in the eyes of the candidates, a subdued affair. But it also exposed a continuing shift on free trade, which has long been a staple for Republican candidates.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, while touting his past support for free trade agreements, promised he would, "blow the whistle and begin to stand up for the American worker," when other nations violate trade deals, and that he would "shut down those imports because they’re a violation of the agreement we have and the American worker expects us to stand up."

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he supports "free trade deals that are good for America."

Rubio said Florida, site of a critical primary on March 15, has "benefited from the free trade deal with Colombia," but said "trade deals like in Mexico ... have been less than promising in some aspects, better in others."

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has emerged as the strongest challenger to front-runner Donald Trump, said he valued the benefits of free trade, but "we’re getting killed in international trade right now. And we’re getting killed because we have an administration that’s doesn’t look out for American workers and jobs are going overseas."

Mr. Trump, who has made international trade a centerpiece of his campaign, reiterated that "trade deals are absolutely killing our country," and suggested imposing "taxes" on foreign goods "unless they behave."

Cruz agreed with Trump that unfair trade practices harm American workers, but said imposing high tariffs to combat them could start a trade war.

"We’ve seen prior presidential candidates who proposed massive tariffs," Cruz said. "Smoot-Hawley led to the Great Depression. And the effect of a 45 percent tariff would be, when you go to the store, when you go to Walmart, when you are shopping for your kids, the prices you pay go up 45 percent. But not only that, when you put those in place, because a tariff is a tax on you, the American people."

 Trump said his tariff proposal "is a threat. It was not a tax, it was a threat. It will be a tax if they don’t behave."

"We’ll build our factories here and we’ll make our own products," Trump said. "And that’s the way it should be done. And the way we’ve been doing it for the last long period of time in our country — our country is in serious, serious trouble. It’s a bubble and it’s going to explode, believe me."

George Mason economics Prof. Don Boudreaux told AMI Newswire that Trump's trade prescriptions fly in the face of economic reality.

"One of the longest standing conclusions of serious economists — a conclusion backed by more than two centuries of careful thought, rigorous theorizing, and countless empirical studies," Boudreaux said, "is that the freer is an economy's trade, the more prosperous are people in that economy."

 "It is a near-universal truth that whenever a politician or pundit prefixes to the word 'trade' qualifiers such as 'fair,' 'smart,' or 'strategic,' that politician or pundit is simply masking his or her support for old-fashioned protectionism," Boudreaux added.

"The only trade that is fair is trade that is free," he said. "Only free trade — trades that consumers each voluntarily choose to enter into, without special prompting or penalties imposed by government — is fair."