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CPAC 2018 is very different on free trade than CPAC last decade

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Times have changed at CPAC. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Back in 2004 or 2005, CPAC crammed about four mini-debates into one mega-lightning-round panel. One of the topics was “free trade.” The organizers needed someone to argue against free trade. They couldn’t really find one, and so they reached out to me.

I was friendly with the organizers, and so they were asking a favor of me. Because the thing is, I generally favor free trade — if someone in China wants to sell me something, and I want to buy it, the government shouldn’t interfere. But I was willing to make a qualified argument against free traders:

The people who tout “free trade” the loudest are the same people who want to subsidize U.S. manufacturers, I said. And I warned that free-trade agreements could backfire in the long run, by turning the World Trade Organization into a global super-regulator.

A full-fledged Buchananite complained to me that CPAC never had a real protectionist. I had to grant him that.

Times have changed.

The panel on Thursday about defending capitalism from Big Government was, mostly a protectionist panel. American Airlines lobbyist Jim Burnley argued, cheered on by ACU Executive Director Dan Schneider, that the government needs to keep out airline competition from the UAE. Another panelist warned about the scourge of reimported drugs. The excuse for these policies is that the foreign countries have price controls or subsidies, and so we can’t “import socialism.”

The president on Friday morning cursed our trade deficit with Vietnam.

There’s another panel Friday titled “We Refuse to Be Suckers: The New Trump Doctrine,” that has a speech on trade. There’s another talk on “market manipulation.”

It shows that times have changed at CPAC.