Peter Navarro had an uneven portfolio in Donald Trump’s White House—until Coronavirus.
White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro is interviewed by Fox Business Network outside the White House October 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON– “Peter Navarro goes to the White House to be a trade adviser—which is evidence of the thin line that exists ideologically between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in terms of isolationism and protectionism,’’ Golden State strategist Rob Stutzman snipes in Politico.
“On immigration and trade, the Trump administration has been radically non-traditional Republican—and Navarro is evidence for that,” says Stultzman of the White House director of the office of trade and manufacturing policy and President Trump’s wartime consigliere. He’s just been tapped as the administration’s point man on the Defense Production Act, an extreme measure invoked in response to a nation ravaged by the fallout to Coronavrius.
Of course, Stultzman’s right. Just not in the way he thinks.
Nature is value-neutral and Mr. Stultzman represents a California Republican Party, like in-person dining at family-owned restaurants, he will be remembered as a historical curiosity. Evolution has swept away a perspective that’s both rococo and coo-coo for cocoa puffs.
Heretofore Republican establishmentarianism is dissolving into a fine mist. The anxious, Nineties platform of the Cali Right—and populist Left—is on the ascent.
Concerns that fully unchecked immigration leads to Balkanization, un-interrogated “free” trade is no trade at all, that America is counterproductively extended abroad, and its cities embarrassingly stretched out at home, look more prescient than preposterous.
Such anxieties served as the ideological foundation of a motley crew of reformers that dominated but were defeated in a nation-state that joined the union one-hundred and seventy years ago this year. Before waging a one-man, now one-nation war on China, Navarro was a failed Democratic politician complaining about zoning in San Diego. Largesse at home and on the high seas would not be salvation, but sarcophagus. Maybe Navarro was right. Navarro backed Hillary Clinton for First Lady, but rejected her for president. The United States made the same calculation.
As has been noted, from Steve Bannon to Steven Miller, from Michael Anton to Matt Drudge, the gold coast has given America kosher cannabis, sanctioned same-sex marriage, but also, Reagan, Nixon, and now, national populism. What was batted down on Long Beach won power in Washington. And to stare too long at San Francisco’s South of Market district on a bad night, or a good one, is to wonder if the ideas won’t one day rebound back across the continent.
Peter Navarro is a Blue Dog Democrat of the old school, those who know him say. Like the president himself, he’s in the Republican Party because Donald Trump’s on top of it. It’s feature, not bug.
At one point, Navarro’s fortunes were on the fritz. Forget about all that. He’s joined this phoenix of a president. Like his boss, the two are in their seventies, but have been improbably reborn. Like Milton in Office Space, I’m told Navarro’s office was humiliatingly moved around, especially in the early days, after losing internal patrons like Bannon, the once-White House chief strategist.
Navarro won’t have to burn the building down now, though. He’s running it.
He gelded Gary Cohn, formerly Trump’s economic point man, in an early 2018 confrontation over tariffs. The ex-Goldman executive resigned in a huff upon discovering, after a year of service, that the populist president was a populist.
Navarro didn’t capture Cohn’s job, but he wasn’t jonesing for it. True, Navarro and Trump aren’t poker buddies. He talks almost like a surfer —among other flourishes, the economist calls people “brother”—and Trump’s cadence is more circus promoter than wave catcher.
But for a politician whose ideas have found ruinously few adherents in Washington proper, Navarro’s nationalist naggings, for Trump, have been a hand on the brain.
All this came to a head with the onset of the Coronavirus, when Navarro was again prescient. It was going to be a big deal.
A superbug sent courtesy of Beijing was both menace and manna from heaven, a cathartic vindication of decades of complaints about collapsing regional supply chains, cratering native industry and craven economic decision-making.
Navarro should work to be remembered as icon, not Icarus. Feuding openly with Anthony Fauci, the District of Columbia’s man behind the curtain, and second-guessing the scientists, is, fair or not, a mug’s game.
But what’s next? Who knows, brother (or sister).
But it’s clear now that Peter Navarro’s sojourn in Washington was no shot in the dark.