David Ranson assesses the candidates' trade positions in the WSJ. This is an important issues upon which to judge presidential contenders because, as Ranson notes, "Trade is a good litmus test of statesmanship, since many polls show that voters believe trade with other countries hurts our economy."
During their debates, some of the Republican candidates expressed more ifs, ands or buts about free trade than others. John McCain says: "Free trade should be the continuing principle that guides this nation's economy." Mitt Romney's position is: "I strongly support free trade, but free trade has to be fair in both directions." According to Mike Huckabee: "I believe in free trade, but it has to be fair trade." But elsewhere he has said: "I don't want to see our food come from China, our oil come from Saudi Arabia and our manufacturing come from Europe and Asia."
Hillary Clinton has taken an even stronger stance against free trade, suggesting that the economic theories underpinning it no longer hold. To support that she cited economics Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson, but he was only making the long-understood but sometimes forgotten point that, even in the long run, free trade does not benefit everyone.
Mrs. Clinton believes in "smart trade." As president she would appoint an official to ensure that "provisions to protect labor and environmental standards" are enforced by international bodies like the WTO and the International Labor Organization. She proposes a "time out" on future trade agreements, and a reconsideration of existing deals -- including Nafta.
Barack Obama is more even-handed: "Global trade is not going away, technology is not going away, the Internet is not going away. And that means enormous opportunities, but [it] also means more dislocations." In a 2005 essay he said: "It's not whether we should protect our workers from competition, but what we can do to fully enable them to compete against workers all over the world."
If Messrs. McCain and Obama see foreign trade as a glass that is half-full, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Romney and Mr. Huckabee see the glass as half- empty.
Based on Ranson's summary, it seems McCain is the soundest of the lot. Whether he'd be a successful free trade President is another matter, as he would have to contend with a heavily Democratic Senate.