This article originally appeared in The Hill.

In this year’s raucous presidential election, you have both the Republican billionaire Donald Trump and a Socialist Democrat Bernie Sanders attacking trade agreements as “disastrous” or being negotiated by “stupid people.”

To be sure, both have tapped into what is viral protectionism spreading across the country, embedded in mid-Western states that suffered job losses as American companies shifted their manufacturing operations overseas.

Regardless of who is elected, the debate will have a profound effect on U. S. trade policy in 2017. Democrats emboldened by the Sanders sizzling attacks on trade agreement and Trump’s rhetoric has scarred the Republicans traditional free trade position. Not only will the TPP have a burial on Capitol Hill, but TTIP and the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty are also in jeopardy.   

As for Hillary Clinton, she is struggling with the trade issue given her close ties to the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama Administrations, both pushed trade agreements through Congress.  Bernie Sanders’ relentless attacks are re-shaping her position that will undoubtedly influence how she will cope with trade policy if elected president.

Both Trump and Sanders are clueless or blatantly dismissive of the consequences of such actions, but their insane rhetoric could lead to a trade war, even collapse of the world trading system, should either ever make it to the White House.

They should also take some time to read the U.S. Constitution which clearly states that “Congress shall regulate interstate and foreign commerce,” so if either were to occupy the White House any attempt to arbitrarily impose punishing tariffs on foreign imports will likely be more a myth than reality.  

This political rhetoric has both political parties in a quandary on what has become a contentious issue.  Obviously Trump’s saber rattling on trade has alarmed Republicans given that Ronald Reagan more than anyone shaped the party’s free trade position that aligns them with the business interests.

On the Democratic side, it was Bill Clinton who convinced a reluctant Congress to approve NAFTA and it’s the Obama Administration that launched both the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) but both were in jeopardy even before the presidential election.

Presidential candidates bashing America’s trade policy are threatening to undermine America's presumed role as the leader in today’s global economy. We’ve been down that path before and it proved devastating.

In the 1928 presidential election the Republican candidate Herbert Hoover campaigned on the populist anti-trade issue, pledging to restrict foreign imports if elected, a message that resonated with the commodity producers and manufacturers who felt betrayed in an emerging global economy, which set the stage for a Republican Congress poised to run amok on limiting imports.

Indeed shortly after the elections, newly formed trade associations mobilized an unbridled frenzy of logrolling, jockeying for maximum protection for commodity and industry producers leading to enactment of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act that hiked import fees, some up to 100 percent, on over 20 thousand foreign products.

On the Senate side, another 1,200 amendments were added that proved so egregious, prompting Democrat Senator Thaedeus H. Caraway of Arkansas to declare that “I might suggest that we have taxed everything in this bill except gall,” to which Senator Carter Glass of Virginia responded, “Yes, and a tax on that would bring considerable revenue.”

President Hoover fulfilled his campaign pledge and sign the controversial trade bill despite dire warnings from the nation’s leading economist.  Indeed within a few months, America’s leading trade partners – Canada, France, Mexico, Italy, 26 countries in all – retaliated, causing the world trade to plummet by more than half of the pre-1929 totals, one of the several factors that precipitated the Great Depression.

The ghost of Smoot-Hawley is enough to frighten any free trader, but obviously Trump and Sanders have scant memory of the damaging effects of ruthless protectionism, especially in today’s integrated global economy.

Is this about to happen again in 2017?  If so, it will clearly put American on the path of protectionism, which could trigger retaliation from its trade partners with dire consequences for America and worldwide.

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Don Bonker

Don Bonker, former U.S. congressman, is a member of APCO Worldwide’s International Advisory Council and an executive director at APCO. Read More