Author: Lars Emerson

The Postrider’s 2020 Presidential Ratings

Can you believe general election season is just getting started? Yes, with the conclusion of the Democratic and Republican national conventions in August, we’re officially off to the races! Call this election whatever you want: the “most important election in the history of our country”? Why not. A “battle for the soul of this nation”? It sure seems that way! The coronavirus election, a referendum on the president, the “George Floyd election”, or a skirmish in the incessant culture war; let’s just go with all of the above. No matter how you see it or how you come down, we hope you’re as excited as we are, because 2020 is the first year The Postrider will have the privilege to unveil our own ratings for a presidential election, providing background as we keep an unwavering eye on an election that may go long past Election Day.

You may recall our 2018 Senate race ratings and analysis, which served as a predecessor and dry run for the big showdown this year. We are planning to unveil our 2020 Senate ratings in the coming weeks as well, which will come later because some states hold late Senate primaries (Delaware’s primary isn’t until September 15, less than 50 days from Election Day!), but our presidency ratings will be different from those as well: broader, bigger, and less personal. So, here are some key things to keep in mind about our process this cycle:

Ratings-Focused

In our 2018 Senate ratings, we focused on telling the individual stories behind the candidates — because candidates matter more in localized races, and less so on the presidential level — and every state’s Senate race is different, with different personalities and dynamics. The presidential election is, by definition, nationalized and consistent. It’s the same two candidates across every state, so that kind of candidate-focused narrative is less useful. That’s why we’re choosing to focus on ratings instead of that individual analysis. 

Each state will be rated on a scale as follows:

“Safe”
The candidate has over a 99% likelihood of winning the state. This is an all but assured state for that candidate, but be mindful that if you were to run the election hundreds of times, thus with hundreds of “Safe” states, you’d expect less than one out of 100 to flip; that’s very low and very rare, but it does happen. Nonetheless, “Safe” means we are confident in a candidate’s odds in a given safe state.
“Likely”
The candidate has at least an 85% certainty of winning the state, so the other candidate has at least an outside chance of winning the state in 1% to 15% of cases. In our map, we have around ten “Likely” states, so if one of them flips; that would not be surprising. It would also not be totally crazy if none of them flip, though the more there are, the more you should expect one to flip.
“Lean”
The candidate is slightly favored but is by no means safe; the other candidate has somewhere between a 15% and 40% chance of winning the state too. In our map, we have just under ten of these states, so it should actually be surprising if at least one of these states does not flip.
“Toss-Up”
The race in this state does not clearly favor either candidate over the other. Each candidate has between a 40% and 60% chance of winning the state.

We determine ratings based on polling data, demographic data, news events, historical trends, the electoral environment in similar states,1Some states are highly correlated, like the midwestern states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Minnesota. If things take a dramatic turn in Wisconsin, you’d expect similar movements across these states based on their similar demographics, political histories, urbanization, population size, economic similarities, etc. Note that geography is not always the best determinator for these variables; for instance, Washington state and Colorado are also similar; as are Maine and Montana. how states are responding to COVID-19 and planning their election procedures, and all sorts of other smaller variables. It’s slightly more scientific than a “gut instinct” but less so than an explicit statistical model. We’re aiming for something closer to the Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, or Inside Elections,2Inside Elections’ publisher is also employed by this author’s employer and The Postrider is completely independent. I mention this for full disclosure, Washington is a small town. with the intent to handicap the race, more so than our idols at FiveThirtyEight, though our various ratings are generally similar other than at the margins. All of our ratings are approved and determined by both the Editor-in-Chief, Michael Lovito, and yours truly, the State & Science Editor.

Update-Oriented

If we decide a state rating merits adjustment, we will publish that under the hover-over for a given state, and write a larger article if necessary. For example, at the time of publication, we have Colorado rated as “Likely Biden”, but if a few weeks from now Trump has improved his numbers dramatically amongst white college-educated voters and Latinos, we’d be inclined to revise our rating in Colorado (which has large shares of both kinds voters) down to “Lean Biden”. We will provide a ratings’ history when you hover over any given state which will include the date of the ratings revision(s) and an explanatory note or link to a larger piece justifying the change. This will make interacting with our ratings map a little more interesting, involved, and useful to watch as the race goes on and provide more context where necessary.3And give us a better starting point when we work on our 2024 ratings for the next cycle! 

All ratings revisions will be approved by both of the editors on this project, and based on the same criterion noted above in terms of changes in polling, how the candidates are doing amongst certain demographics, state-by-state correlations, etc. We won’t change ratings if we believe they are likely to change by Election Day, since that would defeat the purpose of forward-rating these races, but we will change as often as we need to if compelling evidence points to better or worse prospects for the candidates in a given state.

The Overall Projection

Our projection of the total electoral votes per candidate is not a prediction, it is a mathematical allocation based on the candidate’s odds for given electoral votes. For example, we have Tennessee as “Safe Trump” , and with 11 electoral votes, we multiply 11 by 0.99 (as “Safe” we’ve determined means it’s at least better than 99/100 odds that Trump wins that state), or 10.89 votes and 0.11 for Biden. Meanwhile we’ve rated Virginia as “Likely Biden”, so we multiply its 13 electoral votes by 0.85 giving us 11.05 votes for Biden and 1.95 for Trump. “Lean” is multiplied by 0.6 and “Toss-Up” by 0.5. Once all states’ electoral votes have been split in this way, we round to the nearest electoral vote. 

Maine and Nebraska split their electoral votes by congressional district, so we’ve accordingly rated the state at large (two electoral votes) and each of their congressional districts and applied those ratings to their individual and statewide votes. These states are shaded to reflect the diaspora of ratings at large and for the individual districts.

At the time of publication, our projection has Biden at 315 electoral votes, 45 more than the 270th vote he needs to win, and a slightly more conservative estimate than FiveThirtyEight’s or The Economists forecast models.

Remember that we’re not making predictions, we’re just providing an educated assessment on the state of the race in every state.4And the District of Columbia! So don’t write us a mean note after Election Day saying “you had Wisconsin as ‘Lean Biden’ but then Trump won it by one percent, idiot!” No, we didn’t predict that Wisconsin will “only” go for Biden by a little, we’re merely stating it’s more likely than not to go for Biden, but Trump still absolutely has a shot there.

With all of this in mind, The Postrider is proud to present its ratings for the 2020 presidential election.

Running Mates: Episode 15 – 2016 – Pence v. Kaine (Part 2)

In the part two of our 2016 election episode, Lars and Michael unpack their running mate choices for Hillary Clinton, argue about whether keeping Senate seats should be a priority, and end with the big conclusions about the vice presidential candidates this year.

Running Mates: Episode 14 – 2016 – Pence v. Kaine (Part 1)

In the part one of our 2016 election episode, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taps Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate, while reality television star and businessman Donald Trump is nominated by the Republican Party and picks Indiana Governor Mike Pence in order to win over conservative and religious voters.

Running Mates: Episode 13 – 2012 – Ryan v. Biden

With America still recovering from the Great Recession, Republican nominee Mitt Romney chooses “mini-Mitt” Wisconsin Congressman and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan to hit incumbent President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the big issue of the day: the economy.

A Last Look at the VP Picks as Biden’s Decision Looms

We’re finally at the precipice of the moment we’ve spent the entire year talking about: presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick. 

It’s been a wild year, beginning with a competitive Democratic primary, where we talked about our thoughts on whether the Democratic vice presidential candidate was already running and then unveiled our Vice Presidential Tracker to keep track of the strongest vice presidential candidates for each given nominee. We checked in with how the potential vice presidential picks stood after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and then compared the similar picks for the last two standing candidates after Super Tuesday, Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Finally, when Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee, we evaluated his ten strongest candidates, added some big names to the tracker, and lamented the decision by one of the strongest candidates to step out of the running. Never mind the litany of world-shaking news events that have transpired in the last eight months, the world and the 2020 election is now very different looking compared to where we were back then.

But now, in early August, we’re in the prime season to find out who Biden will choose. So it’s time to check in one last time at where things stand in our tracker and what we can expect from Biden’s looming announcement.


At the time of publication, the generic ballot has moved further in Democrats’ direction, corresponding to a general widening of Biden’s lead over Trump nationally over the summer. This has shifted the margins of some of the potential running mates in some of the closer states like Arizona, Michigan, and New Hampshire. We also know that several of our higher ranked individuals will not be under consideration after opting out on their own accord, such as Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Several are excluded by Biden’s own promise to pick a woman, but remember that what our metric tracks is simply the strongest picks mathematically; names are not removed simply because they won’t be considered or chosen, as this is not a model for statistical probability, but rather one that determines the combined presidential ticket’s strength. That’s why Cortez Masto, Klobuchar, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro remain highly ranked. Fundamentally, they’re all from competitive states, are not up for reelection, and complement Biden’s experience well, making them strong candidates regardless of whether or not they’re actually being considered by his campaign.

Rounding out the top tier of the list are names that are probably familiar to anyone who has been keeping an eye on the veepstakes: California Senator Kamala Harris (i.e. the most obvious choice), New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and former Secretary of Homeland Security and former Governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano. There are a couple of names that score well mathematically but aren’t receiving a lot of press attention, like Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono and New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan, but they’re not exactly the non-starters they seem. Then there are names like Cortez Masto and Klobuchar, who we have been consistently touting as top choices for many of the last few months, but who have bowed out. 

Finally, there’s another big name that, once again, we were ahead of the curve on identifying and who is now starting to make headlines as a strong contender: Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth would be notable in that she would defy the expectations for Biden’s running mate. Unlike most of Biden’s top picks, Duckworth has military experience, can speak with authority on military and veterans issues, as well as on issues related to Americans with disabilities (Duckworth lost both of her legs in the Iraq War after the helicopter she was piloting was hit with a rocket propelled grenade) and women’s issues. The Illinois-Delaware mix would be reminiscent of the Obama-Biden campaign, and of course, while not a swing state, Illinois is in the all-important Midwest, and the region of a vice presidential pick does matter to a degree.

Biden’s reported shortlist includes some other names that are lower on our tracker, and I believe there’s merit in justifying why our model (which operates entirely on objective mathematical metrics, as opposed to punditic analysis) has these names lower. For example, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, who might make sense because of the importance of winning Wisconsin, but is being kept down by her high level of federal experience, which combined with Biden’s equals 65 total years in the federal government). Baldwin is also liable to slip further if the election narrows, as she is technically just outside the cusp for counting as a competitive seat thanks to a very wide Democratic lead in the generic ballot margin and the fact that Wisconsin’s margin is only one point more Republican leaning than the nation as a whole. 

Florida Representative Val Demings and former Georgia State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams both score low on our tracker because they do not meet the minimum viable office qualification, which significantly handicaps their scores. Sorry, but a vice presidential candidate with less than 8 years experience in the House or without any service as a Senator, cabinet member, or military commander is just incredibly rare. It has only happened once in the last 19 open vice presidential picks, and that was Geraldine Ferraro, who still has six years more minimum required experience than Abrams, and two years more than Demings.1Don’t worry, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg falls to the bottom for the same reasons and scores far worse than each of them, because Demings and Abrams are both still mathematically more qualified than he is. 

Lastly, the two hotter names that don’t make it very high on our list: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice. I’ve faced flak for the relatively low ratings for a Biden-Warren ticket that the tracker has been generating, but the truth is that there is little numerically there for Biden. Warren brings no outsider experience, which is a problem when you’re running with someone who has 44 years of federal experience, her home state of Massachusetts is almost comically noncompetitive,2Donald Trump won about 33% of the vote in Massachusetts in 2016, which was only five points worse than the state’s former governor Mitt Romney got in 2012. and to top that off (though the tracker is not explicitly docking her for this thanks to how incredibly uncompetitive Massachusetts is), the governor is a Republican — meaning Democrats would temporarily lose a Senate seat were Warren to win the vice presidency. Our tracker is also not counting for ideological differences, of which large ones are also quite rare when it comes to Democratic presidential tickets, but that is also a reason to be bearish on Warren. Rice is docked in the ratings for similar reasons: she has plenty of federal experience, but very little outsider experience to complement Biden; her home “state” of DC is even less competitive than Massachusetts.3Rice does, however, have Maine connections and could credibly claim to “run” from Maine, as she considered doing so in this year’s Senate race there.


So, with only a couple of weeks, or maybe just a couple of days, remaining before we find out who Biden’s running mate will be, keep in mind the disparate strengths of the field. Just because a choice feels good, doesn’t mean the fundamentals are there. It’s often said that the first rule of vice presidential picks is “do no harm”, and that is more a matter of fundamentals and what we’ve expected historically from running mates than a flashy name. That’s why this model strips it down to numerical data, and it’s also why we’ve been bullish on some choices that it took a lot of other media sources time to come around on, like Tammy Duckworth, Janet Napolitano, and Catherine Cortez Masto. The combination of both solid fundamentals and consistent attention paid to Kamala Harris is a good sign for her prospects. Just don’t be surprised if Duckworth, Whitmer, or Lujan Grisham end up getting the nod; they’re all fundamentally strong candidates to run alongside Joe Biden.

Running Mates: Episode 12 – 2008 – Biden v. Palin

As unpopular wars rage on, the economy collapses and Lars and Michael delve into Republican nominee John McCain’s miscalculation as he seeks a game changing vice presidential pick in Sarah Palin to counter the historic nomination of Barack Obama, who seeks a more traditional running mate with Joe Biden.

Running Mates: Episode 11 – 2004 – Edwards v. Cheney

Amidst the War on Terror, President George W. Bush and his VP, Dick Cheney, are up for reelection against Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. In what turns into a presidential contest over their respective military records, patriotism, and foreign policy credentials, Kerry chooses, and later would regret having done so, North Carolina Senator John Edwards as his running mate.

An Obituary for NAFTA

This week, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will resolve into the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), ending a 26-year-old pact that was once the largest free trade agreement of its time. In these 26 years — and in the many years leading up to its formation — it has found few friends willing to defend it by name. Instead, its quarter century has been suffused with vitriol from those who seek to blame it for every adverse economic condition and stuffy academic assertions of its espoused benefits and shortcomings. But as we say farewell to NAFTA this week, we owe it the time to look back and reflect on its origins, and what it has really meant for both the United States and North America at large.

A North American Common Market

The foundation for the NAFTA we know today was best articulated by a presidential candidate in 1979. In the very speech where he announced that he would seek the presidency, Ronald Reagan declared, “A developing closeness among Canada, Mexico and the United States–a North American accord–would permit achievement of that potential in each country beyond that which I believe any of them–strong as they are–could accomplish in the absence of such cooperation. In fact, the key to our own future security may lie in both Mexico and Canada becoming much stronger countries than they are today.” What started as an agreement between the United States and Canada in the late eighties quickly accelerated to include Mexico shortly thereafter when Reagan’s successor, President George H.W. Bush, began negotiations to use the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement as a template for the more inclusive pact. The impetus to include Mexico was driven by American urgency to counterbalance the rising economic heft across the Atlantic. In the early nineties, the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty would be negotiated and then signed, integrating the economies of Europe, establishing a single market with free movement of goods and people, and ultimately resulting in the creation of a single currency: the euro. Having mercilessly competed with Japan economically in the 80s, the prospect of facing a new economic superpower gave the United States newfound interest in expanding its economic opportunities. By providing companies access to new markets, especially in Mexico where the cost of labor was lower than it was in the United States or Canada, American businesses would be more competitive globally. This would create jobs in Mexico, thus improving the economic situation and discouraging migration to the United States, and in turn bring down prices for consumers in the United States, allowing a specialization in more services and higher-paying labor.

President Bush reached an agreement to create the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992 and signed the presumptive agreement with Mexico and Canada as a lame duck president in December of that year. When President Bill Clinton came into office a month later, he requested two side agreements to allay two prominent concerns: labor rights and environmental standards. The first provided a right to strike, ensured child labor protections, and maintained worker health and safety measures while the second created the first ever trade sanctions based on environmental laws, which earned the pact the endorsement of groups like the Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In an optimistic moment of solidarity, Clinton signed the side agreements in September of 1993 flanked by former presidents Bush, Carter, and Ford, as they all advocated Congress’ passage of the final implementation act in the months to come. Clinton spoke of a middle class increasingly working harder for less, of the challenges of global competition, and the need to adapt and change ahead of the new century. “In a fundamental sense, this debate about NAFTA is a debate about whether we will embrace these changes and create the jobs of tomorrow, or try to resist these changes, hoping we can preserve the economic structures of yesterday,” Clinton conceded. But his challenge to America was bold and admirable. “Are we going to compete and win, or are we going to withdraw? Are we going to face the future with confidence that we can create tomorrow’s jobs, or are we going to try against all the evidence of the last 20 years to hold on to yesterday’s?”

After signing the side agreements, the former presidents spoke in turn. Bush expressed his gratitude to the team who negotiated the original agreement and a deep appreciation for having had the opportunity to lay the groundwork for what he felt was a bipartisan accomplishment. “Now I understand why he’s inside looking out and I’m outside looking in,” he humored at Clinton in a way no president who had lost reelection to another would ever be expected to do. Carter spoke of NAFTA as a step towards securing democracy in Latin America and against those who were attempting to stoke the public’s trepidations regarding the agreement. He spoke of “a demagogue who has unlimited financial resources and who is extremely careless with the truth, who is preying on the fears and the uncertainties of the American public,” evoking, in all but name, ardent NAFTA critic Ross Perot. Ford cautioned his former colleagues in the Congress against voting against the agreement, equating it to, in effect, a vote for illegal immigration and admiring that “world trade has been the real engine that has given the free Western industrial nations the capacity to have prosperity and growth” and that there is now “opportunity for future prosperity and good living for people in this entire hemisphere.”

The comradery of presidents from every party, who had defeated or been defeated by one another, envisioning a better world, not just for themselves or their nation, but for all mankind, tugs at the heart a little here in 2020. And it worked. Congress — with bipartisan majorities in each chamber, fervently opposed by bipartisan minorities all the while — passed the North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act in November of 1993, and it was signed by President Clinton on December 8. “There is no turning back from the world of today and tomorrow, we must face the challenges, embrace them with confidence, deal with the problems honestly and openly, and make this world work for all of us,” observed Clinton. Ending his remarks in palpable contrast with the modern day, conjuring American exceptionalism as an ideal to aspire to and a force for good rather than a nationalistic cry for the past, Clinton affirmed, “America is where it should be, in the lead, setting the pace, showing the confidence that all of us need to face tomorrow. We are ready to compete, and we can win.” 

NAFTA went into effect January 1 of 1994, and over the course of the next 25 years, trade between the US and Mexico more than doubled, from 1.3% to 2.7% of combined GDP. Trilateral trade between the three nations increased three-fold. Mexico’s GDP per capita at purchasing power parity also more than doubled; as did the United States’. Net migration from Mexico to the United States fell below zero, Canada and Mexico now buy more American exports than the United States buys Chinese imports, and the world’s largest land border between two countries remained open up until COVID-19 resulted in its closure for the first time since Canada became a nation. 

“A Giant Sucking Sound”?

The trade pact was never for want of controversy. On the day of NAFTA’s enactment in 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a Mexican guerilla group, staged the Zapatista uprising, seizing towns in the Mexican state of Chiapas in response to the pact. In 1999, domestic opposition to free trade climaxed with the Battle of Seattle, which led to violent conflict between police and protestors and the deployment of troops in Seattle. In 2014, the AFL-CIO critiqued “the legacy of NAFTA and the flawed U.S. trade policy it both shaped and reflects has been stagnant wages, declining social standards and increased inequality.” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spent years thereafter condemning the deal and, of course, Donald Trump spent the height of the 2016 presidential campaign calling NAFTA “the worst trade deal maybe ever.” 

Ross Perot argued in 1992 that NAFTA would result in a “giant sucking sound” as jobs moved from the United States to Mexico. Thousands of US jobs did disappear, especially in manufacturing — estimates vary, but tend to put the number at around 600,000 jobsAny fair economic analysis would concede some jobs shifted and were lost in this period following the enactment of the pact, though whether NAFTA is to blame for the loss, or whether it simply accelerated this trend, is up for debate. 87% of the decline in manufacturing jobs is accounted for by automation, not trade, and manufacturing jobs have been in decline as a proportion of overall employment since the 1950s even though American manufacturing output has actually increased overall

The often overlooked reality is that NAFTA supports 4.9 million jobs in the United States and 34 million private sector jobs were gained over the 25 years since its enactment, at a rate of about 1.3 million jobs per year, well surpassing the 600,000 that may have been lost. The Peterson Institute’s Gary Fubauer and Cathleen Cimino-Isaacs found that, in fact, “Since NAFTA’s enactment, fewer than 5 percent of US workers who have lost jobs from sizable layoffs (such as when large plants close down) can be attributed to rising imports from Mexico” and that “for every net job lost in this definition, the gains to the US economy were about $450,000, owing to enhanced productivity of the workforce, a broader range of goods and services, and lower prices at the checkout counter for households.” NAFTA contributed to lower food, oil, and other import prices and may have been the prevailing factor saving the American automobile industry from tenacious Asian and European competition. As of 2014, it was estimated that the United States is $127 billion richer every year because of the additional trade courtesy of NAFTA, equivalent to $400 per American. Canada has also benefited from the deal, seeing a decline in unemployment and an increase in productivity. Its government’s factsheet on NAFTA paints a positive picture of “economic growth and middle class job creation… unprecedented economic integration between partners, creating a platform where companies from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico make things together rather than simply sell to each other.” 

The situation, contrary to American critics’ claims, is actually less clear in Mexico. Some studies have found “relatively large positive effects” but others have found effects that are — to say the least — underwhelming. Omitted from many of these depictions of depreciated wages in Mexico is the Tequila crisis, a currency crisis that pushed Mexico into a severe recession in 1994, causing a 20% decline in wages that took years to recover from, giving the appearance of economic failure in the early NAFTA years. In reality, Mexico’s new relationship with its northern neighbors, who were anxious “not to let [their] new partner go under”, encouraged an American-led bailout that made for a more expedient recovery than Mexico had seen in similar crises before NAFTA’s implementation.

The most accurate critique of NAFTA may be that it did not go far enough, and its benefits have had a comparatively small impact compared to what they could have been. Had Mexico’s economy grown more rapidly and seen a diversification in jobs, they’d be better positioned to buy more American goods and services. Plans to expand NAFTA, or at least the scope of cooperation between the nations, may have reached their peak in 2001, as then-president George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox met to discuss immigration and Fox addressed a joint meeting of Congress. With border control on the mind, Bush remarked, “The best way to take pressure off our borders is for Mexico to grow a middle class, and the avenue for Mexico to grow a middle class is trade.” Of course, history got in the way, and only a few days later on September 11th, the Bush administration would be deviated from the pursuit of an expanded relationship with its southern neighbor. 

Most studies have found a relatively modest but nonetheless positive impact on GDP thanks to NAFTA. Not the great boon to economic growth nor responsible for perceived economic stresses of the 21st century that various sides have hailed. But the aim of free trade between nations is not a zero sum game. It speaks to the virtues they espouse, whether they will work together or separately, and whether making a neighbor better off is worth it. It demonstrated how nations come together to forge a common future for all of their people and for the world, and how benevolent leaders can work with each other to try and make things better for the next generation. The real tragedy of the USMCA is that these high-minded ideals of progress and North American cooperation did not drive it as they did its predecessor, and it instead represents a retreat from those ideas entirely.

NAFTA 2020

It’s unfair to really call this the death of NAFTA. The USMCA has been characterized as more of a revision, or a “NAFTA 2.0” than President Trump and his cries of “ending the NAFTA nightmare and signing into law the brand-new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,“ seem to imply. The USMCA makes a series of tweaks like increasing intellectual property protections, slight opening up the Canadian dairy market, beefing up labor and environmental protections in Mexico, and an increase of the percentage of a car that must be made in North America from 62.5% to 75% for it to qualify for zero tariffs provided that at least 30% of work done on vehicles is by workers earning $16 per hour. If that seems fiddly and minute, that’s because it largely is. The Economist noted that “this victory of governmental micromanagement comes with costs,” emphasizing that the United States’ most-favored nation tariff on non-USMCA imports of passenger vehicles are a mere 2.5%, so “car manufacturers could [opt] to ignore the deal, pay the 2.5% tariff for non-USMCA imports and source parts wherever made business sense.” This means car prices would rise for American consumers and, if automakers find it more cost-efficient to produce cars outside of the now higher-cost North America, it would lead to a further decline in manufacturing and employment at home.

This comes after years of threats and insinuations by Trump that he would completely withdraw from NAFTA,1Withdrawal from NAFTA would have caused an economic crisis resulting in price spikes across the bloc, would have put exorbitant pressure on supply chains, and reduced competitiveness with major manufacturing powers in Europe and Asia. This makes the allegation that White House economic advisor Gary Cohn single-handedly stopped this by simply taking the piece of paper off of Trump’s desk somewhat concerning, to say the least. the assumption of negotiations without a common understanding for the need for an agreement at all, demands for a sunset clause and other non-starters, moving ahead with Canada out of it entirely if they didn’t get on board with Trump’s demands, a capitulation from Canada and Mexico so as to avoid a painful withdrawal, and a spate of domestic politics in which Trump again threatened to terminate NAFTA so that Congress would move on his new deal quickly. All of this resistance and uncertainty, spitefully manufactured by America, just to get perfunctory adjustments that add little to the grand aspirations for the region.

The Trump administration’s approach to the treaty was mercantilist, short-sighted, self-interested, and inconsistent with the ideals for North American partnership that began the march towards NAFTA. It is a far cry from Reagan’s — and his preceding and succeeding presidents — vision of “looking outward… confident of our future; that together we are going to create jobs, to generate new fortunes of wealth for many, and provide a legacy for the children of each of our countries.”

Trade deals have always been easy targets; their defenders are quiet technocrats and academics, and politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom came to govern as staunch free trade advocates, have railed against them for electoral reasons. Making a compelling case to spread prosperity outside one’s own borders and compete openly in the global economy at the expense of fading jobs at home is a cause few politicians are brave enough to champion. But the world should remember NAFTA fondly, and recall the enlightened aims it sought — not as an end, but as one step towards something even better. 

NAFTA was never perfect. No agreement framed by governments with varying interests ever is. But it was characteristic of an era of American foreign and domestic policy where its leaders did not promise the bygone past at the expense of opportunity in the future. Instead, NAFTA was about three nations coming together because they knew they were stronger together rather than apart. That’s something worth celebrating, and something to mourn the loss of in 2020. 

Running Mates: Episode 10 – 2000 – Cheney v. Lieberman (Part 2)

In the part two of our 2000 election episode, Lars and Michael discuss who Democratic candidate Al Gore should have put on the ticket instead of Joe Lieberman. They conclude with a broad analysis of the 2000 election, the direction of the parties and decisions they made at this point, and set the stage for the prevailing partisan trends in the 21st century.

Running Mates: Episode 9 – 2000 – Cheney v. Lieberman (Part 1)

In the part one of our 2000 election episode, the impeached president Bill Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore runs for the presidency and picks Joe Lieberman to try and distance himself from Clinton. Meanwhile, Republicans seek a compassionate conservative and land on George W. Bush, who tasks Dick Cheney with finding a vice presidential candidate for him, but Bush ultimately decides on Cheney himself. Two running mates who offer relatively little strength in the one state that matters: Florida.

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