There were a lot of similarities between Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney. The two moderate Republicans were not just the only Mormon candidates on the ballot, but they often seemed to be the only adults in the room at the Republican debates. Immediately after the rumors of his withdrawal from the race began to flash, I was surprised to find a lot of my Democrat buddies posting their regrets online. Huntsman's quiet, thoughtful style appealed to them and he exuded more sincerity than they've found in Romney's legendarily stiff demeanor. The former ambassador's mastery of the Chinese language made him appear remarkably cosmopolitan for a Republican candidate.
In what was his most memorable campaign moment, Huntsman decided to use the January 7th debate to go after Romney's escalating China bashing with a clever demonstration of his Mandarin skills with a blithe "他不太了解這個情形." Mitt was naturally baffled and Huntsman condescendingly translated that as "He doesn't quite understand the situation" and followed up by re-assuming his role as ambassador to China and presenting a little lecture from Hu Jintao. Huntsman smugly warned Romney -- and worried Americans at home -- that attempting to hold China accountable to global trade norms and the agreements they've signed would result in a retaliatory trade war. Romney's poll numbers shot up and Huntsman finished a distant fourth in the New Hampshire primary he'd fought hard for because the candidate from Beijing doesn't appear to understand the situation in America.
That situation is a harsh reality where more than 20 percent of Americans are either unemployed or tragically underemployed. Despite a recent drop in the official unemployment rate, temporary and part time jobs created in the retail sector are no substitute for the high-paying manufacturing base we've lost. When our former machinists or factory foremen stock shelves at Wal*Mart they know what the label says; it says "Job in China."
The take away for Mitt is that China bashing not only doesn't hurt, but it resonates and Mr. Obama's team should be shaking in their Chinese made shoes. Last year's celebrity studded White House bash with communist dictator Hu Jintao and the president's ill-considered appointment of China's favorite son and Offshorer Extraordinaire, Jeff Immelt, as his jobs czar will make for some powerful Romney TV commercials and debate. Let us hope the president doesn't respond by lecturing unemployed America in Chinese.
Greg Autry teaches Macro Economics at the Merage School of Business, UC Irvine and is the co-author, with Peter Navarro, of Death by China. He holds a MBA from UCI and is completing a Management PhD in the area of public policy and economics. More info can be found at www.deathbychina.com.