, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain has long been one of his party’s staunchest supporters of trade deals and broader trade policies that have supercharged U.S. deficits and debts, and slowed the current recovery. He’s been an especially ardent defender of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which set U.S. trade policy off on its offshoring-friendly course.

So it’s got to be big news that McCain last night agreed with Fox talker Bill O’Reilly’s proposal that if Mexico doesn’t do more to stem the flow of Central American immigrant children moving through its territory to the swamped U.S. border, Washington should tell America’s southern neighbor, “[Y]ou can forget about NAFTA.” O’Reilly added that Americans should boycott Mexican-made goods (so many of course manufactured by U.S-owned or affiliated companies and their subcontractors) and cross Mexico off their travel list.

To be sure, McCain started to look queasy as these words were uttered. But asked explicitly by O’Reilly, “What’s wrong with that?” McCain stated, “Nothing is wrong with that….” For good measure, McCain endorsed telling “these Central American countries that we give a lot of assistance to, that they are going to not get another dime until they stop” allegedly abetting their citizens’ exodus. In that vein, it’s worth noting that McCain also strongly championed the 2005 U.S. free trade deal with Central America that was supposed to bring prosperity and democracy to this long impoverished and misruled region.

There’s no reason to think that this McCain about face on NAFTA will be much more lasting than his 2008-10 about face on amnesty-friendly immigration policies once they became taboo among so many conservatives he needed to court during his presidential run, and among the Arizonans whose backing he needed to stay in the Senate. In fact, expect him to issue some kind of mealy-mouthed clarification if need be during the next few days.

But this feckless immigration record underscores how even conservative stalwarts who are handsomely rewarded by offshoring-, cheap labor-happy multinational corporations can change their globalizing spots when facing enough grassroots pressure. So far, these results have been achieved almost entirely on the immigration front. Motivating conservatives on the equally important trade front, against its at least equally damaging effects, remains a woefully unmet challenge. Which is tragic since backing fundamentally new trade policies that benefit the domestic economy for a change could be exactly what conservatives and Republicans need to win back the economically stressed middle class and working class voters they’ve lost recently.