Opinion

Has The Club For Growth Gone Protectionist?

Mytheos Holt Policy Analyst

With patent reform within a hair’s breadth of finally becoming reality and ending patent trolls’ reign of terror, certain conservative organizations have, bizarrely, decided to make the perfect the enemy of the good by opposing it. Specifically, they take issue with the Innovation Act, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), in terms that, to say the least, are uncharitable. An alarmist ad campaign backed by the American Conservative Union, the Eagle Forum, and the Club for Growth has already gone out, claiming that “China loves it” because:

The bill could block patent holders from directly going after infringers who copy their inventions, making it virtually impossible to stop foreign knockoffs from China and elsewhere.

Now, anytime an ad says a bill “could” do something, you should generally tune it out, because that means that the effect in question is not only nowhere in the language, but probably doesn’t even follow logically from any of the provisions. For instance, a teachers’ union might tell us that collective bargaining reform *could* leave teachers shackled to their desks, or that vouchers could put minority students in work camps. Surprise, surprise, this kind of fearmongering is unserious, and so is the charge about China.

What is more disappointing, however, is that the Club for Growth signed onto this particular line of attack, which isn’t so much a serious policy point as an attempt to prey on gullible Americans’ anxieties about foreign nations. It’s the kind of thing that belongs in the mouths of protectionists — say, the sorts of protectionists who rail on about China’s currency manipulation and sponsor bills to try and impose duties (read: tariffs) on them in order to stop it. Actually, precisely that sort of bill was proposed a while back by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Max Baucus, but fortunately, Sen. Pat Toomey provided a voice of sanity:

Unfortunately, Congress is suffering from a bad case of amnesia. Over the past several months, protectionism has reached a fever pitch with lawmakers in both Houses clamoring to attach their names to as many as 50 anti-trade bills.

In the Senate, Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) have joined longtime protectionists, Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), in sponsoring legislation to punish China for currency intervention. Tomorrow, hearings in the House Ways and Means Committee commence with a host of protectionist measures on the agenda, including legislation by Reps. Timothy Ryan (D., Ohio) and Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) that would allow the Commerce Department to increase duties on China. Not to be outdone, the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates are falling over themselves to reject the free trade policies of Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party.

In this respect, Congress hasn’t changed much over the past 77 years. Thankfully, economics hasn’t changed much either: 77 years after 1,028 economists stood athwart protectionism yelling “stop!” a new batch of economists are just as determined to turn back the rising protectionist tide.

Actually, hang on. Did I say that Sen. Pat Toomey wrote that? Sorry, that’s from 2007. He hadn’t been elected Senator yet. That’s actually Pat Toomey railing against protectionism in a different role: as President of the Club for Growth.

Oh well, perhaps new hands are in charge now, and the Club has decided it’s more willing to back protectionism. Heck, for all I know, these days they’re cheering Donald Trump for his anti-China scaremongering while other conservative organizations correctly denounce Trump as a “King of Protectionism.” I’m thinking of the sort of organization that puts out an opposition research document like this:

Trump: The King of Protectionism:

Trump wants a 25% tax on all Chinese imports: “Twenty-five percent tax on China, unless they behave,” he told O’Reilly. ”You’re threatening China with a trade bill. Twenty-five percent tariff. That’s big,” O’Reilly retorted. ”No, they’re threatening us. They’re going to make a three hundred billion dollar, let’s call it profit, this year on the United States.”

Trump: “I’d love to have a trade war with China. If we did no business with China frankly we’d save a lot of money.”: In a Fox News interview, Trump said “I’m a big free trade believer by the way.” A few minutes later he said “I’d love to have a trade war with China. If we did no business with China frankly we’d save a lot of money.”

Oh wait, that’s the Club for Growth skewering Trump in 2011, well after its new leadership was installed. I guess they don’t like protectionism so much after all.

So we’ve got to ask ourselves: If the Club has so enthusiastically endorsed trade with China and fought back against anti-China scaremongering in the past, what made them willing to get on board with an ad campaign that uses that precise tactic?

Who knows, but either way, someone should ask the Club to denounce the ad for its irresponsibility, and start making actual good faith arguments about patent reform.

Otherwise, you know, someone could get the idea that their pro-trade convictions are negotiable in the name of political expediency.