Free trade warrior Mike Pence now 'questions the wisdom' of TPP, NAFTA

Posted at 4:51 PM, Jul 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-28 18:02:48-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence – a man who has spent his entire political career advocating for free trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership – now says he "questions their wisdom."

As the president of the free-market think tank the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and as a conservative radio host, Pence pushed aggressively for free trade. As a Congressman – as the Washington Post and numerous other outlets have pointed out – Pence voted in favor of every free trade deal that came before him, including the Central America Free Trade Agreement, the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, and other free trade deals with Panama, Korea and Peru.

In December 2001, Pence took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to praise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its benefits to the state of Indiana.

In 2013, Pence joined the governors of 13 other states in sending a letter to President Barack Obama urging progress on three trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; and the Trade in Services Agreement.

Then Donald Trump – who has made criticism of free trade a cornerstone of his campaign (He frequently refers to NAFTA as "one of the worst economic deals ever made.") – picked Pence as his running mate.

In just two weeks on the campaign trail, Trump has, seemingly, convinced Pence to reverse positions on free trade he's advocated for nearly three decades.

He explained his apparent reversal Thursday during an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham:

"Throughout my career I have strongly supported free trade in measures that came before the Congress, and when I was asked to support free trade initiatives as the governor of Indiana, I supported them. But, frankly, we're on the verge of electing one of the best negotiators in the world as President of the United States of America, and as Donald and I sat down and talked, he talked to me about questioning the wisdom of these multi-country trade agreements – that, when they're not working out the way NAFTA is clearly not working out, they're very difficult to unwind. He said to me, you know, look – he's for free trade, I'm for free trade deals on a country by country basis. Let's work out deals that work for the people of the United States. I'm completely convinced that there is wisdom in that. Let's deal with countries individually. With the TPP, you know, it feels a little bit like Obamacare. You remember when Nancy Pelosi said, 'We've got to pass this bill so we can find out what's in it.'"

Trump alone may not entirely explain Pence's about-face, though. The governor told Ingraham that Carrier's decision to move 1,400 jobs from Indianapolis to Monterrey, Mexico, was a "jarring experience."

"I was stunned by that," Pence said. "They said, all the people we compete with are already manufacturing in Mexico, and we're just going to go there. That tells me something's wrong and we've got to change it."