President-elect Donald Trump announced his intention on Tuesday to nominate President Reagan’s former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, as his U.S. Trade Representative.
The announcement is widely viewed as a victory for those who support Trump’s winning campaign message of advancing an America First trade policy and cracking down on the illicit trading practices of foreign partners.
In a press release announcing Trump’s selection, Lighthizer affirmed his commitment to carrying out Trump’s pro-American worker trade agenda.
“It is a very high honor to represent our nation and to serve in President-elect Trump’s administration as the U.S. Trade Representative,” Lighthizer said. “I am fully committed to President-elect Trump’s mission to level the playing field for American workers and forge better trade policies which will benefit all Americans.”
“Bob Lighthizer is eminently qualified to fulfill Donald Trump’s America First trade policy,” American Jobs Alliance President Dennis Black told Breitbart.
“[Lighthizer] has a granular understanding of the flawed trade agreements of the past that have immiserated working Americans and eviscerated American sovereignty, subordinating both to an unworkable, utopian one-world globalism,” Black added. “Crucially, Bob understands the threat China’s predatory trade practices pose to our jobs, our industries and our national security.”
Conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham hailed Trump’s selection of Lighthizer as “phenomenal.” Ingraham, who has long advocated that the GOP adopt a pro-American worker trade policy along the lines of that advanced by President-elect Trump, worked with Lighthizer at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP– where Lighthizer was a partner and focused on international trade law.
During his time at Skadden Arps, Lighthizer represented American manufactures. According to his biography on the law firm’s website, Lighthizer “has been lead counsel in scores of antidumping and countervailing duty cases during the past three decades” and has represented “heavy manufacturing, agricultural and high-tech companies, as well as financial services institutions.”
“Ambassador Lighthizer is going to do an outstanding job representing the United States as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first,” President-elect Trump said in a written statement. “He has extensive experience striking agreements that protect some of the most important sectors of our economy, and has repeatedly fought in the private sector to prevent bad deals from hurting Americans.”
“He will do an amazing job helping turn around the failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity,” Trump added.
Lighthizer’s commitment to Trump’s trade agenda is not new. For years, Lighthizer has been a vocal advocate of trade policies that prioritize the needs and interests of American workers.
In 2011, Lighthizer penned a prescient op-ed in which he defended Trump’s position on international trade and explained how it is aligned with that of President Reagan. In his piece entitled, “Donald Trump is no liberal on trade,” Lighthizer wrote:
Mr. Trump’s GOP opponents accuse him of wanting to get tough on China and of being a protectionist. Since when does that mean one is not a conservative? For most of its 157-year history, the Republican Party has been the party of building domestic industry by using trade policy to promote U.S. exports and fend off unfairly traded imports. American conservatives have had that view for even longer. […] Every Republican president starting with Lincoln – and for almost 100 years thereafter – generally supported tariffs, while Democrats tended to promote free trade.
Lighthizer, demonstrating his mastery of the history of U.S. trade policy, cited the records of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Calvin Coolidge, writing:
Do you think that any of the conservatives and Republicans listed above would allow a foreign adversary to use currency manipulation, subsidies, theft of intellectual property and dozens of other forms of state-sponsored, government-organized unfair trade to run up a more than $270 billion trade surplus with us and to take U.S. jobs? […] On a purely intellectual level, how does allowing China to constantly rig trade in its favor advance the core conservative goal of making markets more efficient? […] When viewed in this context, the recent blind faith some Republicans have shown toward free trade actually represents more of an aberration than a hallmark of true American conservatism.
Similarly, in a 2008 New York Times op-ed titled “Grand Old Protectionists,” Lighthizer criticized Sen. John McCain’s support for globalist trade policies backed by “liberal elites.”
In his op-ed, Lighthizer expressed concerns about the dogmatism of religious free traders and encouraged the adoption of a trade policy that would be a “tool for building a strong and independent country with a prosperous middle class”:
Ever since Edmund Burke criticized the French philosophes, Anglo-American conservatism has rejected ivory-tower theories that disregard the realities of everyday life. Modern free traders, on the other hand, embrace their ideal with a passion that makes Robespierre seem prudent. They allow no room for practicality, nuance or flexibility. They embrace unbridled free trade, even as it helps China become a superpower. They see only bright lines, even when it means bowing to the whims of anti-American bureaucrats at the World Trade Organization. They oppose any trade limitations, even if we must depend on foreign countries to feed ourselves or equip our military. They see nothing but dogma — no matter how many jobs are lost, how high the trade deficit rises or how low the dollar falls.
Conservative statesmen from Alexander Hamilton to Ronald Reagan sometimes supported protectionism and at other times they leaned toward lowering barriers. But they always understood that trade policy was merely a tool for building a strong and independent country with a prosperous middle class.
Free traders like Mr. McCain instead rely too often on the notion that we should change the country to suit their trade policy — an approach that is not in the best traditions of American conservatism.
Polling data shows that the majority of Americans share Trump and Lighthizer’s skepticism about globalist trade policies. A September Politico Pro-Harvard poll revealed “an across-the-board skepticism toward international trade.”
By a five-to-one margin, Americans believe that trade policies with other countries have lost American jobs (65% believe our trade policies have lost the U.S. jobs versus only 13% who believe our trade policies have created U.S. jobs). The poll similarly found that only 14% of Americans believe our trade policies have raised U.S. wages, and only a vanishing 8% of Republicans “think free trade has led to higher wages for U.S. workers.”