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Michael TaubeCanadians have watched the wild, crazy and circus-like political atmosphere in the U.S. with great amusement.

Many of us are floored at the prospect of businessman Donald Trump becoming the Republican Party nominee over well-established politicians like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. We’re also surprised that former First Lady, New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is having so much trouble winning the Democratic Party nomination over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old “democratic socialist.”

Yet in the midst of this amusement over the turmoil in one of the world’s great democracies, we’re missing the big picture. Our nation should be spending far less time laughing and a great deal more time thinking about the future of Canada-U.S. trade relations.

Barring any unforeseen mishaps, Trump and Clinton will most likely be the presidential nominees of their respective parties. Who would be the best choice to manage the U.S. economy? Although Trump often pays lip service to the glory of capitalism, many observers believe Clinton would be the safer choice.

Here’s one example.

Barron’s executive editor John Kimelman wrote on March 7 that, “Clinton is the more investor-friendly of the two.” He notes that “[w]e are not endorsing Hillary Clinton for president of the United States,” and “[n]or are we saying that she would be the best president for investors from among the current crop of candidates.” Regardless, this free market oriented publication believes, “Clinton’s moderate political instincts and left-center policy goals suggest a president who wouldn’t stand in the way of the financial markets.”

As for Trump, Kimelman acknowledges that his “tax-cutting initiatives could potentially help both the economy and markets.” At the same time, the controversial businessman’s “tax cuts coupled with his adamant refusal to address ballooning entitlement costs, such as medicare and social security, would expand the national debt to the breaking point.”

Here’s something else to think about.

Trump’s call for “heavy tariffs against China,” wrote Kimelman, “could cause a trade war that would devastate the world economy.” As he mentions, Barron’s wrote last fall that “Trump’s tariff plans were reminiscent of the protectionist policies of the 1920s and early 1930s that plunged us into the Great Depression.”

This should worry Canadians, at least on the surface.

Trump has been more solidly in the camp of fair trade over free trade for many years. (He went as far to use the unusual term “free and fair trade” in his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough.) He said, “I think NAFTA has been a disaster. I think our current deals are a disaster” on CNN in June 2015. He also called the Trans-Pacific Partnership a “. . . horrible deal . . . that is going to lead to nothing but trouble” during last November’s Fox Business/Wall Street Journal debate.

The U.S. has long been a major trading partner for Canada. The success of these trade agreements and proposals directly involve and affect our country’s economy, too.

Trump’s positions on the campaign hustings aren’t conducive to maintaining healthy Canada-U.S. trade relations. In contrast, Clinton’s opposition to big business and capitalism has been, at this stage, more rhetorical than harmful.

Now, could Trump change some or all of his positions before the presidential election? Of course. He’s flip-flopped on so many political and economic policies in the past it would only make sense that he keeps following this pattern.

Then again, maybe he won’t.

This sort of energetic nationalist fervor against international trade and the loss of American jobs appeals to Trump’s broad base of supporters, including right-leaning isolationists as well as traditional working class Democrats. For those of us who believe in the free market economy, trade liberalization and private enterprise, this type of backward economic thinking is extremely troubling.

Just some food for thought for Canadians who can’t stop laughing at America’s political landscape.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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