Protectionism and Congressional Republicans

Brad DeLong has a link to this, from Morgan Stanley economist Stephen Roach:

Cries of protectionism can be heard loud and clear in the hallowed halls of the US Congress. America’s jobless recovery has finally reached a breaking point. Republicans and Democrats, alike, are up in arms over the steady attrition of employment in this so-called economic recovery. Job-related distress is bad enough. But unrelenting layoffs, together with record and ever-widening US trade deficits, are a toxic combination in this highly charged political season. For Congress, the agenda is clear: It is now time for action against those deemed responsible for the distress of the American worker. China is the target.

Protectionism becomes more popular during every economic downturn, and this one is no different. The only thing that changes is the target. During the last recession it was Japan, and during this one it will be China.

One question is, of course, how the “free-trader” George Bush will behave in the face of a protectionist movement in Congress. But that’s a boring question, since I think we all know the answer — just as we can guess how he’ll behave in any situation where his principles come up against short-term political expediency.

So here’s the really interesting question in this case: How panicked are Congressional Republicans starting to feel about the 2004 elections? Will they feel so much election year pressure that they will do anything, including violating the free trade principles that so many of them supposedly espouse, to boost their popularity?