Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Nathan Deal on Trump, trade and anger in the electorate

The question on many elected Republicans’ minds these days is how to respond to the Trump phenomenon . Although election results like this past week’s primary in Georgia suggest anti-establishment sentiment lacks a channel when The Donald isn’t on the ballot, they’d rather not risk their political futures on being wrong about that.

Getting elected is one thing; governing is another. So I decided to ask someone who has stood in his last election, but still has a lot on his agenda before retiring from office, what he has taken (so far) from this year’s strange campaign.

“I think it’s been characterized as he’s tapping into the anger of the American people,” began Gov. Nathan Deal during an interview Wednesday. “I heard a good definition … that anger is fear turned inward.

“People are afraid of what’s happening in the world, and they apparently do not feel that established government has given them enough reassurances that they will be protected — whether it be terrorism, whether it be protecting their ability to earn a living, whether it be … assurances they can afford for their children to get an education in the manner in which they think is appropriate. There are just a lot of things that people are angry about. And government really, quite frankly, should be in the business of giving people relief from their fears, if that’s what fear is, is anger turned outward.”

Deal said one of the main issues Trump has seized upon, the wisdom of some of America’s trade agreements, also caused him some unease during his 17-plus years in Congress.

“There are many of us who have been in elected office at the congressional level who — at least I’ve had the feeling — we’ve entered into these trade agreements, and then we forget about them. We don’t enforce the terms of those agreements, we don’t hold people accountable for the conditions that were associated with the agreements.

“A bad agreement to start with is bad enough. But one that doesn’t appear bad at the outset (but) that is really not enforced, turns out to be a bad agreement. And I think that’s what he’s pointing out in some of these trade agreements, is we’ve just sort of walked away from the enforcement side of things. And you can’t do that, because you’ll be taken advantage of.”

Deal hasn’t formally endorsed Trump; a spokeswoman says he voted for Jeb Bush but still intends to support the GOP’s nominee. He said he doesn’t agree “with everything (Trump) has said, and the ways in which he’s said it,” but that the businessman “has to be commended” for attracting more people to the party’s primaries.

The reconciliation between Trump and the GOP establishment has been uneven, to say the least. Deal called on “those who have been, and are still in, positions of leadership … to make accommodations” while also putting the onus on Trump, if he’s elected, to cultivate the relationships needed to move his agenda through Congress.

“Because,” Deal said, “campaigns that rely simply on emotion without substance to change the direction of the issues that people are angry about will ultimately be rejected, because it will be just another disappointment.”

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.