Donald Trump has consistently run against free trade. Hillary Clinton has consistently favored trade treaties and trade subsidies — until this campaign, when she flip-flopped to opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

When Trump attacked free trade in tonight’s debate, Clinton responded by running away from the trade issue.

After’s Trump’s attack on free trade moderator Lester Holt asked Clinton her views on trade. “Trade is an important issue,” Clinton said, before dedicating one sentence to trade. Then she shifted immediately. “We also, though, need to have a tax system that rewards work and not just financial transactions.” Most of her response was on taxes and inequality — totally running from the trade issue.

The second time the question of trade came back to her, she said, “let’s not assume that trade is the only challenge we have in the economy. I think it is a part of it, and I’ve said what I’m going to do. I’m going to have a special prosecutor. We’re going to enforce the trade deals we have, and we’re going to hold people accountable.”

So this lifelong pro-trader called trade a “challenge.”

Pressed again on trade, she said, “There are different views about what’s good for our country, our economy, and our leadership in the world. And I think it’s important to look at what we need to do to get the economy going again. That’s why I said new jobs with rising incomes, investments, not in more tax cuts that would add $5 trillion to the debt.”

This may reflect her view that Trump wins on this issue. It may reflect a perception that swing voters are largely anti-trade. Whatever the cause, Clinton has apparently decided not to defend free trade.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner’s senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.

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