However, there are also valid arguments against TPA and TPP from a conservative perspective--and these arguments go well beyond how much we can trust Barack Obama. So I think it premature for some on the right to try to excommunicate TPA/TPP dissenters from serious conservatism.
First of all, it is unclear whether unequivocal "free trade" is a sine qua non of conservatism. If conservatives want to say that, they will have to cast figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, and Ronald Reagan out of the conservative narrative. Lincoln and Coolidge, after all, were major proponents of tariffs, and, while Reagan talked about opening up trade, he also took steps that many conservatives today would decry as "protectionist" (and even decried then as "protectionist"). As Alan Tonelson relates, Reagan did things like impose quotas on imported cars from Japan. That's hardly free trade.
Secondly (and perhaps more pressingly), it is far from clear that TPP will actually promote free trade. As I've suggested before, much of what goes by "free trade" in contemporary political discussions isn't actually free trade but instead the creation of internationally administered systems of managed trade. Now, perhaps those internationally administered systems of managed trade are helpful and worth advancing, but they are certainly not free trade.
Moreover, these administrative systems set up international bodies that can have influence over U.S. domestic policy. For instance, the U.S. House voted this week to no longer require meat producers to disclose the country of origin for meat. One major motivation for this was the threat of retaliatory tariffs enabled by the World Trade Organization. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
Wednesday’s 300-131 vote repealing the country-of-origin labels for meat follows a series of rulings by the World Trade Organization finding the labeling discriminates against animals imported from Canada and Mexico.
Canada and Mexico won a final WTO ruling in May, and are now seeking retaliatory actions valued at a combined $3.7 billion a year. Canada has threatened trade restrictions on a range of U.S. products, including meat, wine, chocolate, jewelry and furniture.
Maybe this repeal of country-of-origins labels is a good thing; maybe it isn't. But the fact remains that an international body (one not elected by or accountable to the U.S. voter) helped usher along this change in domestic policy. The establishment of international bodies by so-called "free trade" agreements could very legitimately concern small-government conservatives. These bodies might at times undermine the principles of the market and of national, republican governance.
Again, there are plausible arguments on behalf of TPP and TPA--but it would be a mistake to write off all conservative critics of these measures as charlatans and cranks. I respect many of the proponents and many of the opponents of these measures, and it's better to have a respectful conversation.
(*Disclosure: I contribute to National Review.)