Tariffs now mount, and as they do, President Donald Trump relies on a trade director with whom he's been politically aligned in perhaps unexpected ways.
Like Trump, his adviser Peter Navarro, 69, has been a Democrat. On this subject, Navarro chafes against Republican "free-trade" orthodoxy as strongly as anyone in power.
Like Trump, Navarro has been a bit of a name-caller. In 1998 he blasted the GOP as beholden to "buffoons, sociopaths and zealots like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Ralph Reed."
Like his president, Navarro supported Hillary Clinton for president in the 2008 primary, as Time magazine noted last month.
In recent years, Navarro has consistently honed a grim but cohesive message — that China poses a threat to American security as well as to American industry.
Navarro's 2006 book is titled "The Coming China Wars." His 2011 book is called "Death by China" and the last work, published in 2015, is "Crouching Tiger: What China's Militarism Means for the World."
Another key player in the president's trade war is U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, 70, who's cut from a different cloth. He negotiated with Japan during the Reagan administration on trade deficits, was chief of staff for the Senate Finance Committee under Sen. Bob Dole and later became a high-powered lobbyist for the steel industry at the firm Skadden Arps.
Last Monday the president moved ahead with a new round of measures against Chinese products, a 10 percent levy on $200 billion in imports. Key strategic questions loom. One is whether, as Trump hints, the tariffs are a temporary prod to get a better deal for America — or, as Navarro suggests, they could work as a permanent policy. Lighthizer, too, sees China as a long-term challenge.
One key target for the tariff team is steel manufacturing, a long-battered industry in the United States that bled jobs. President George W. Bush gave steel tariffs a try. Of that effort, analyst Evan Horowitz wrote on the website Five Thirty Eight: "The real-world effects proved rather meager."
"Imports did decline," Horowitz wrote, "but seven U.S. steel companies still went bankrupt and the number of workers in the industry seems to have dropped."
One reason may be that the Bush tariffs were lifted after two years, Horowitz said. There also were high pension costs and inadequate plant investment over many previous years.
Six months ago, Trump's chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, a "free trade" advocate, quit the White House, having lost his argument against tariffs.
Positive results from the tariff policy wouldn't show instantly. The Commerce Department this month reported that the U.S. trade deficit in the first seven months of the year hit $337.9 billion, up $22 billion from a year earlier.
That's the highest in a decade. Experts quoted in published reports attributed this to a strong U.S. economy buoying imports, combined with U.S. tariff spats and slowed growth overseas disrupting exports.