The Wall Street Journal theorizes today that the Clinton Presidential Campaign fired poltical strategist Mark Penn because he met with Columbia's ambassador to the U.S. to discuss the proposed Columbia free trade pact. If that is the case, it would be a tremendous reversal of Bill Clinton's support for free trade, one of the few laurels in his legacy. While the meeting may have produced the howls from organized labor that the Wall Street Journal claims, it strikes me that the evidence that this was the precipitating cause of Penn's dismissal (as opposed to the failing Clinton campaign) is weak. The interesting question is: Can John McCain make free trade a winning issue in the November election, when so many right-wing Republicans and independents have fallen into the anti-Nafta, protectionist camp?
4/9/2008 UPDATE: Well folks, this time the Kosher Hedgehog not only has been proven wrong on all counts, but he is delighted about it. News reports, such as this story in today's Los Angeles Times, confirm that the reason for the demotion of Mark Penn indeed was his meeting with the Columbian ambassador. Moreover, Hillary is doubling down in order to mollify her Big Labor supporters, reiterating her opposition to the Columbia free trade pact that Bill Clinton favors.
And in an editorial yesterday, the Los Angeles Times notes, "Either Clinton and Barack Obama secretly favor free trade but are pandering to blue-collar voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania by pretending they don't, or they actually believe their anti-trade rhetoric and simply employed campaign advisors who weren't on the same page." In either case, the Times' editorial concludes, "For Clinton and Obama, there can be no happy ending to this story. As president, they could either break their promises and embrace trade deals with the likes of Mexico and Colombia, thus disillusioning a key part of their base, or keep their word, thus badly harming foreign relations, damaging the U.S. economy and ultimately reducing job prospects for the very workers they purport to be trying to protect."
So yes, John McCain can make an election issue out of this, and one that not only appeals to independents and centrist Democrats, but also to the Democratic Party's Latino voters.