The 2016 U.S. presidential election presents voters with an important choice—but on an issue that matters dearly to farmers and ranchers, it appears on first glance to offer no choice at all.
On the issue of free trade, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are almost indistinguishable. They’re both against it.
They’ve become economic isolationists who reject a bipartisan legacy of promoting the flow of goods and service across borders—a legacy shared by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and one that has helped make the United States the most prosperous nation on the planet.
But are the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates the only options for voters who see trade as an opportunity rather than a threat?
There’s another choice I’ve been watching: Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee for president.
He may be a third-party candidate, but on free trade he offers a second way and an apparent clear choice.
Let me start by saying that I haven’t decided how I’m going to vote in November. I’m not personally satisfied with the choice of Clinton vs. Trump, but I’m still watching and studying the race. I may even choose not to cast a presidential vote at all and instead concentrate on state and local elections here in Oklahoma.
Yet I’d prefer to cast a presidential vote—and right now, I’m looking at Gary Johnson as an intriguing option.
He’s a 63-year-old former Republican governor of New Mexico who likes to describe himself as “fiscally conservative and socially tolerant.” He’s perhaps best known as a budget-balancing supporter of drug legalization. He’s on the ballot in all 50 states and in many places he’s polling between 10 and 15 percent, which may be enough to win an invitation to this fall’s presidential debates, where he would have a chance to share his vision and expand his appeal.
On trade, Johnson offers a unique perspective among the presidential candidates. Whereas Clinton and Trump are fearful of foreign competition, Johnson delivers a different message: “Let’s rule the world with trade,” he said on MSNBC last month.
Now that’s my idea of how we might make America great again—through confident leadership and positive engagement.
Both Clinton and Trump have come out against the Trans Pacific Partnership, a pending trade agreement that includes the United States and 11 other nations. So has Jill Stein, the presidential nominee of the Green Party.
As a farmer and rancher, I see TPP as a job-creating opportunity for my family as well as for my fellow Oklahomans and Americans everywhere. It promises to boost exports for farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers as well as improve prices and increase choices for consumers.
Clinton and Trump despise TPP. Trump has called it “horrible” and “terrible.” Clinton, who praised TPP as Secretary of State, made her strongest statement against it on August 11: “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”
Gary Johnson is different. “Free trade needs to be promoted in a really big way,” he said on Fox Business last month. As the former governor of a border state, he knows why it makes sense for Americans to exchange goods and services with people in other countries.
He also favors TPP. “Is it a perfect document? Probably not,” he told Politico. “But based on my understanding of the document, I would be supporting it.”
Johnson’s running mate is Bill Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts. “I’m convinced TPP is good policy,” he told the Washington Times. “It’s planting the … economic flag big-time in Asia, and that’s worth a lot to us.”
Does support for TPP mean that the Libertarian ticket of Johnson-Weld is the best choice for farmers and ranchers?
That’s for individual farmers and ranchers to decide on their own—and we’ll weigh everything from our agricultural interests to our concerns about social policies, military spending, and foreign affairs.
Yet trade matters to us as American citizens, and Weld is right to make a simple statement of fact: “We’re the only free-trade ticket in the race.”
This gives farmers and ranchers—and all of us who value economic opportunity—a lot to think about.