It should be noted, I have neve ever confused crony trade with free trade in 32,000 plus posts here at EPJ, You won't find such confusion ever. Never once have I called NAFTA or TPP free trade, Indeed, it would be extremely difficult for you to find me saying anything positive about NAFTA or TPP (Though they are better than Trump trade).
Because one is against Trump trade does not mean that one is in favor of crony trade as opposed to free trade.
That said, the distinctions that exists between free trade, crony trade, and Trump trade must be understood,
It must be understood that Trump's view on trade is simply an old tired mercantilist view that money coming in and goods going out is the ultimate goal of trade. He views any manufacturing leaving the US as evil. This is what is behind his tirades against Ford, Carrier and Apple, for paying to have goods produced overseas. He wants manufacturing done in the US so that the money comes in when those products are sold outside the US and he doesn't want the products made outside the US so that American consumers (or American manufacturers) don't send money outside the country to acquire them.
Murray Rothbard, years ago, explained the absurdity of Trump's concern:
Protectionists focus on the horrors of imports being greater than exports, implying that if market forces continued unchecked, Americans might wind up buying everything from abroad, while selling foreigners nothing, so that American consumers will have engorged themselves to the permanent ruin of American business firms. But if the exports really fell to somewhere near zero, where in the world would Americans still find the money to purchase foreign products? The balance of payments, as we said earlier, is a pseudo-problem created by the existence of customs statistics....
We conclude that the sheaf of protectionist arguments, many plausible at first glance, are really a tissue of egregious fallacies. They betray a complete ignorance of the most basic economic analysis. Indeed, some of the arguments are almost embarrassing replicas of the most ridiculous claims of 17th-century mercantilism: for example, that it is somehow a calamitous problem that the U.S. has a balance of trade deficit, not overall, but merely with one specific country...
Must we even relearn the rebuttals of the more sophisticated mercantilists of the 18th century: namely, that balances with individual countries will cancel each other out, and therefore that we should only concern ourselves with the overall balance? (Let alone realize that the overall balance is no problem either.)Attempts to block trade are all always bad ideas, but it must be understood that on a scale from bad to worse, no trade is worse than some trade and they are both worse than total free trade,
So to the degree that Trump is actually serious about preventing Carrier, Apple and Ford to buy or produce some products overseas that are allowed under current crony trade deals, it is worse than crony trade. We should object to crony trade deals because we want trade that is completely free, not trade that is more restrictive, which appears to be what Trump is in favor of, if we are to believe his rhetoric.
Let us try and understand these three possibilities, Trump trade, crony trade and free trade in a mental experiment. Let us assume that the cheapest and most tasty apples can be made overseas, rather than here in the United States. Under total free trade, Americans would be able to trade freely with any overseas farmer who produced these cheap and tasty apples. Under crony trade, some powerful crony operator would get onerous regulations written into a trade deal that would prevent his competitors from exporting apples into the US, but the regulations would still allow him to export the apples into the US. Thus, Americans still have it better than if no trade were to be allowed, but the cost would no doubt be higher and the number of apple buying options would be limited because of the cronyism.
Under Trump's mercantilist view, he would want the apples produced in the US, even though that would mean apples that were less tasty and more expensive. He sees himself as some kind of bizarre master negotiator. where he will measure his success by the degree by which he keeps as much production in the United States as possible. This, of course, means that he fails to understand the problems with the mercantilist view, but also the law of comparative advantage.
Thus, on a sliding scale from bad to worse. Trump's mercantilist trade perspective is the worst, crony trade is a better alternative but far from the best and free trade is the best alternative. That is, total free trade is great and some trade is better than no trade or extremely limited trade.