The race for president: A free-trade boogeyman, the so-called ‘Trump reset’ and Clinton’s fears beyond Benghazi

SMU experts are available for interview on all things related to the current state of the presidential race.

DALLAS (SMU)SMU experts are available for interview on all things related to the current state of the presidential race. 



When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed in 1993, it was a bipartisan accomplishment passed by a Republican Congress and signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Nowadays it’s hard to find a soul in either party who will stand beside NAFTA or any other free-trade deal, in a case of what Martin describes as misplaced blame.

“Look at the pro-Brexit crowd promising to return Britain to a prouder time, and Trump saying he’ll make America great again and Sanders calling for a future to believe in,” Martin says.  “What’s interesting about the anti-free trade argument these forces all share in common is they call for a return to a time when you could graduate high school, get a factory job and get a quote-unquote ‘good life. Now that’s not possible. But the moment people should point to isn’t NAFTA or the EU, it’s 1989 and the fall of communism, because when communism fell you had increased competition and the rise of low-priced labor markets.”

In other words, whether or not NAFTA was signed, cheaper labor was about to explode onto the scene in the 1990s and the decades that followed.

“That’s the thing you can’t undo,” Martin says.

Martin adds it’s possible to read the tea leaves in the actions of conservative leaders and organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which were quick to condemn Trump’s anti-free trade remarks.

“People are just positioning themselves for the post-Trump era,” Martin says. “They don’t want to be tied to Trump. The number of people who are not getting onboard is astonishing.”

Martin is an SMU assistant professor of Communication Studies in the Meadows School of the Arts. She can discuss:

  • economic messages in political campaigns
  • presidential campaign strategy
  • religious voters and evangelical social movements


Much was made last week of Trump’s decision to fire his long-time campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and whether it signaled that a more politically-correct “reset” of the campaign was around the corner.

Some Trump speeches have been more controlled since Lewandowski’s departure, but numerous lapses have Wilson referring to any so-called “reset” as merely a mirage.

“At multiple points in the primaries, people said, ‘This is when Trump will change or mature or get more serious,’ and it never really happened, so I think we should be careful assuming it will happen now,” Wilson says. “Trump may for a few days have a slight shift in tone, but he doesn’t have deep foreign policy expertise, so it’s not an option for him to be a conventional politician who offers substantive answers. He inevitably has to fall back on the bombastic politics of personality.”

Across the aisle, Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton is struggling with her own perception problems, despite putting the Republican’s Benghazi panel behind her when it concluded its work and failed to uncover any startling revelations.

“Most Americans don’t trust her or think she’d be a good president, but most don’t see her causing an epic national meltdown the way they fear a Trump presidency might,” Wilson says. “I also don’t think she was ever too worried about the Benghazi situation. Anyone who cared about that already had their opinion baked in. The bigger concern for Clinton is her email situation, and that still remains to be resolved.”

Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science. He can discuss:

  • religion and politics
  • political psychology
  • •voting behavior of religious voters
  • public opinion and politics



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