Byline: Robert E. Lighthizer, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
With Donald Trump getting more TV coverage than Charlie Sheen and rising in the polls among Republicans, it is not a surprise that the knives have come out for him. He's just another liberal, screams the libertarian Club for Growth. He's not one of us, echoes Karl Rove.
All of that may be true, but one piece of cited evidence is quite puzzling. Mr. Trump's GOP opponents accuse him of wanting to get tough on China and of being a protectionist. Since when does that mean one is not a conservative? For most of its 157-year history, the Republican Party has been the party of building domestic industry by using trade policy to promote U.S. exports and fend off unfairly traded imports. American conservatives have had that view for even longer.
At the beginning of this nation, Alexander Hamilton and his followers were staunch conservatives who helped found American capitalism - and avowed protectionists. By contrast, Thomas Jefferson - the founder of the Democratic Party - was much more of a free trader. During the first half of the 19th century, pro-business politicians like Henry Clay were ardent supporters of an American system that would use tariffs to promote American industry. Clay's political descendents - such as Abraham Lincoln - went on to form the Republican Party. Every Republican president starting with Lincoln - and for almost 100 years thereafter - generally supported tariffs, while Democrats tended to promote free trade.
Would anyone argue that presidents like William McKinley, William Howard Taft and Calvin Coolidge were not conservatives - or that free traders like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt were not liberals?
Skepticism toward pure free-trade dogma can be seen as well in more recent Republican leaders. The icon of modern conservatism, Ronald Reagan, imposed quotas on imported steel, protected Harley-Davidson from Japanese competition, restrained import of semiconductors and automobiles, and took myriad similar steps to keep American industry strong. The same can be said of Richard Nixon. In 1971, Nixon imposed a temporary tariff on all imports in response to what he perceived to be unfair foreign economic policies. No one would accuse Nixon of being a liberal - but his approach was in some ways even more trade-restrictive than what Mr. Trump has suggested.
In light of these facts, can anyone really think that getting tough with China is a liberal idea? Do you think that any of the conservatives and Republicans listed above would allow a …