Donald Trump is giving the Republican establishment cardiac arrest. It is trying to destroy his credibility as a viable presidential candidate in 2012. It is easy to see why: Mr. Trump is soaring in the polls. Over the past month, the billionaire real estate mogul has catapulted to the top of the prospective GOP field, closely trailing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Mr. Trump has many positive assets. He is articulate, forceful and - should he decide to run - would have an almost unlimited war chest. Yet his greatest weapon is that he is not afraid to hit President Obama hard on almost every major issue - taxes, trade, deficits, government spending, Obamacare, jobs and Libya. He is willing to go where other GOP candidates fear to tread. He is politically incorrect, discussing taboos such as the president’s birth certificate, which is considered beyond the pale by our establishment media. In short, Mr. Trump is the consummate outsider.
And for this, he is being eviscerated by GOP insiders. Karl Rove, senior adviser to former President George W. Bush, labeled Mr. Trump’s possible White House bid a “joke.” That was echoed by the anti-tax group the Club for Growth, which branded Mr. Trump a “tax-hiking liberal” and the “king of protectionism” in international trade.
The emerging GOP narrative is as obvious as it is infantile: Mr. Trump cannot be taken seriously. He is the court jester of American politics - good for some laughs and nothing else. This is a cheap smear designed to avoid discussing the substance of his ideas.
In particular, Mr. Trump is different from the other potential GOP candidates in one important respect: He is a nationalist. He is tapping into a Middle American populism previously championed by Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan.
Mr. Trump is not a globalist free-trader but an economic protectionist. He is opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organization. He seeks to slap a 25 percent tariff on Chinese imports and end Beijing’s predatory trade policies. In short, he wants to put America first.
For decades, both parties have told Americans that free trade would stimulate jobs, economic growth and soaring exports. Both sides would benefit from a more robust exchange of goods and services. In fact, the very opposite has occurred: America has opened its giant market to imports while other nations, such as China, South Korea and Japan, have kept their markets closed. Beijing and Seoul restrict U.S. imports entering their countries, while Washington welcomes a flood of cheap Chinese products - everything from computers and textiles to cars and auto parts.
The result is that Washington has been amassing record trade deficits. The main thing America has been exporting - sorry, outsourcing - is its jobs. Over the past decade, 6 million manufacturing jobs have been wiped out; one-third of our industrial base has disappeared; and China has emerged as one of the world’s top automakers and the premier exporting nation. Beijing deliberately manipulates its currency to boost exports. It forces U.S. corporations that build plants in China to disclose their technological secrets and research and development practices - effectively stealing American know-how and innovation.
U.S. manufacturing is a shadow of its former self. No great modern nation has ever endured without being an industrial power. The most potent symbol of America’s decline is Detroit. Once known as the “Arsenal of Democracy,” which built the tanks, jeeps and airplanes pivotal to defeating Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, it has become an urban wasteland. We no longer produce much - except junk food and vulgar Hollywood movies. Wal-Mart is a case in point. In essence, it is a huge Chinese convenience store, where almost every product is made in China.
The Red Dragon is on the march. The U.S. consumer is bankrolling China’s growing military and economic might. Beijing’s communist rulers are determined to eclipse the United States.
This should come as no surprise. China is simply following the model established by America. From 1865 until 1932, the United States pursued economic nationalism. Led by the Republican Party, Washington championed high tariffs, low taxes and strong manufacturing. Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley and Calvin Coolidge all embraced protectionism along with tax-cutting, pro-growth policies. This helped transform America into a prosperous industrial nation and military giant.
We have forgotten the keys to our success. Hence, when Mr. Trump says he will repeal Obamacare, slash government spending, reverse our skyrocketing deficits, terminate NAFTA and other trade deals, stand up to the Chinese and impose protective tariffs to stop America’s deindustrialization, he is speaking the language of traditional Republicanism.
There is nothing funny or comical about his potential candidacy. In fact, it is remarkable that the same people - Mr. Rove, the Club for Growth, the GOP establishment - who are smearing Mr. Trump are partially responsible for America’s current crisis. They were complicit in propping up the Bush administration. Mr. Bush supported runaway deficit spending, massive bailouts, the prescription-drug benefit that paved the way for Obamacare, bleeding wars in the Middle East, disastrous trade deals and the appeasement of China. His failed big-government, free-trade policies badly damaged Republicans, costing them control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. In other words, it was Mr. Bush who ultimately gave us the Obama-Pelosi Democrats.
Mr. Trump’s ideas are not a joke. He is rightly raising the flag of Republican nationalism - a once-dominant tradition that desperately needs to be revived. Economic nationalism made America great. It can do so again.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.