Presidential candidate Donald Trump and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday continued to diverge sharply on trade policy, the latest example of divisions within the Republican Party that threaten unity ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
Trump on Wednesday called on the nation's largest business association to "fight harder" for American workers in response to the group's scathing criticism of his economic platform.
The Washington-based lobbying group, which represents the nation's largest corporations and business interests, is typically a reliable backer of Republican policies. But it took issue on Tuesday with Trump's vocal opposition to international trade deals, calling his proposals "dangerous" ideas that would push the United States into another recession.
Trump struck back the following day.
"Why would the USChamber be upset by the fact that I want to negotiate better and stronger trade deals or that I want penalties for cheaters?" the wealthy businessman wrote on Twitter.
In speeches on Tuesday, Trump called for renegotiating or scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico, which he called job killer, and reiterated his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership among 12 Pacific Rim countries. He also singled out China's trade and currency policies for criticism.
The Chamber has consistently backed international trade deals.
The public disagreement between the presumptive Republican nominee and the business group was unusual, one of a series of reminders that Trump still struggles with uniting his party. The Republicans and many business leaders tend to share policy goals and work in lockstep. Many business leaders have also traditionally been big donors to Republican candidates.
Billionaire Republican donor Paul Singer, who bankrolled an effort to try to defeat Trump during the nominating phase of the campaign, said on Wednesday that a Trump presidency and his trade positions would almost certainly lead to a global depression.
"The most impactful of the economic policies that I recall him coming out for are these anti-trade policies," Singer said during a panel discussion at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, according to CNBC. "And I think if he actually stuck to those policies and gets elected president, it's close to a guarantee of a global depression, widespread global depression."
But fighting against trade deals has proven successful for Trump among voters concerned about the loss of manufacturing jobs.
Trump appeared to be easing some concern within his party.
Art Laffer, a former Ronald Reagan economic adviser who supports Trump, said he did not like the tone of Trump's speech on Tuesday but thought it was an improvement over his past comments on trade.
"It's not terribly alarming to me," he said. "I didn't see any 45 percent tariffs across the board. I didn't see 47-foot walls in this paper.
"I saw negotiating better trade deals rather than throwing away all the trade deals we have now. He points out the flaws in these trades, and that's all true," Laffer said. "I don't like the tone of it, but I dislike the tone less today than I did three weeks ago."
Peter Navarro, a Trump trade policy adviser, defended the candidate's position.
"Here's the central point to understand: The White House has been utterly and completely soft on China's illegal trade practices," said Navarro, a professor at the University of California, Irvine. "The status quo is the worst of all possible worlds for the United States."
Trump, who was slated to speak in Bangor, Maine, later on Wednesday, took criticism for his trade speech from both sides of the political aisle.
In a call organized by Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign, U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, a former businessman and tech entrepreneur, said that while the country needed to do a better job protecting workers, more resources should be put into training them for a new economy.
He too made note that it was unusual to see a Republican standard-bearer and the Chamber divide.
""You've really got a special circumstance when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce" responded to Trump's economic plan with a "full-fledged onslaught," Warner said. "No one could have predicted this kind of election season."
The Democratic lawmaker criticized Trump's remarks supporting the British decision to leave the European Union.
"The truth is if you are entrusted with positions of responsibility, words matter, your tone matters, your confidence matters and on all of those indicators Donald Trump has failed the test of tone or tenor for leadership," Warner said.
Clinton held no public campaign events on Wednesday but did announce she would campaign next week with President Barack Obama for the first time this year.
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