Opinion: Trump Will Ride The Center Lane In Fall Election Campaign

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Never underestimate the staying power of bureaucrats—through passive resistance they are amazingly adept at frustrating the more temporal power of elected officials.

Getting down to cases, Donald Trump has become a swamp rat like the rest of us and whether his opponent is Bernie Sanders or somewhat more moderate Joe Biden, the country will get a choice between a defender of the status quo ante—Donald Trump—and a more radical vision seeking to alter American capitalism and constrain economic freedom.

Focusing on international trade policy, Trump executed what left leaning Democrats have long aspired—downgraded the WTO, thrown up tariffs on China and reworked NAFTA and commerce with China into more a managed regime.

If a Democrat lands in the Oval Office, not a lot will change.

Remember, Hillary Clinton promised to get tough with China and pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Trump did exactly those things. With modest alterations, Nancy Pelosi pushed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement through a reluctant House.

No Democratic candidate has suggested we just take down Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods. None could end the festering confrontation with Beijing without facing terrible opposition from congressional Democrats. Unless of course he won fundamental reforms in Beijing’s socialist market economy—the Chinese Communist Party would rather go down in flames then swallow that.

To gain cooperation from the EU on China, a Democrat would likely agree to work with France, Germany and other allies to modernize the WTO, but reforming that moribund institution is as tough as boiling the ocean.

Simply, don’t look for a big change in foreign economic policy, except less hostile U.S. participation with the international consensus on global warming—remember, Detroit auto makers and electric utilities are already moving to substantially decarbonize their products.

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Peter Morici is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and widely published columnist. He is the five time winner of the MarketWatch best forecaster ...

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