Can a controversial economics professor rooted in San Diego's garbage can-picking political culture of the 1990s teach Donald Trump the ropes of world finance? Will a super-rich University of San Diego law school grad who has lent his big-money backing to an array of eccentric borrowers, including late superstar Michael Jackson and ex-Union-Tribune owner Doug Manchester, be able to reverse Trump's plunging poll numbers?
Stay tuned for suspense and intrigue as the wealthy New Yorker rolls out his newly christened Trump Economic Advisory Council, with members including Peter Navarro, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and Tom Barrack, a University of San Diego law grad who put up the cash to build Manchester's long-delayed convention center hotel in Austin, Texas, after the Chinese turned him down.
“I am pleased that we have such a formidable group of experienced and talented individuals that will work with me to implement real solutions for the economic issues facing our country," said Trump in a statement.
"For too long we have watched as President Obama and Hillary Clinton have ruined our economy and decimated the middle class. I am going to be the greatest jobs President our country has ever seen. We will do more for the hardworking people of our country and Make America Great Again.”
Navarro unsuccessfully ran for mayor on an antigrowth platform against Republican Susan Golding in 1992. He subsequently mounted failed races here for seats on the city council, county board of supervisors, and the U.S. House of Representatives, before departing San Diego for Orange County and UC Irvine.
"I was the unwitting beneficiary of a midnight raid on Susan Golding’s campaign garbage cans," wrote Navarro in an April 1998 memoir of his San Diego political days.
'The raid was conducted by a shadowy political operative who was in the employ of one of the other candidates in the race. What he found — and promptly leaked — was a particularly damning confidential memo from Golding’s pollster Dick Dresner. In it, Dresner urged Golding to introduce a measure on the board of supervisors to cut some poor hapless schmucks off welfare. The kicker here was that Dresner clearly acknowledged that the measure would be illegal, but he urged Golding to do it anyway to consolidate her right-wing political base."
Trash-digging also figured in Navarro's House campaign. "Several bags" of his opponent’s garbage, "were — quite literally — dropped into my lap by the only anonymous person in this story." Noted Navarro: "a retelling of this garbage tale should underscore perhaps the most important lesson in this story for wannabe politicos: never, ever leave your garbage out overnight for your opponent to pick up and pick over."
After his days as a San Diego Democratic politico, economist Navarro re-emerged in Irvine as a staunch critic of trade with China, co-authoring the 2011 book Death by China: Confronting the Dragon, which praised American steel-maker Nucor for standing up to Washington’s free trade lobby.
“If American corporate executives want to better understand the art of fighting back against Chinese mercantilism and protectionism, they need look no further than Nucor…and the example set by its [chief executive officer], Dan DiMicco [who] spends considerable time in the public arena lobbying for real trade reform with China," according to the book.
"Besides running one of the most successful and technologically innovative companies in the world, DiMicco spends considerable time in the public arena lobbying for real trade reform with China. In this way, DiMicco provides a sharp counterpoint to the naïve or even turncoat behavior of CEOs like GE's Jeffrey Immelt and Westinghouse's Jack Allen."
Word subsequently came to light that Nucor had been hit up for $1 million to fund a documentary film based on the book, with the cash to be routed through the Nucor Foundation and on to the nonprofit Utility Consumers' Action Network of San Diego.
"We were approached by Peter Navarro to support his film, which we felt was important work and needed to be done,” executive director of Nucor public affairs Patrick McFadden told the Reader's Don Bauder in August 2011.
A lengthy FBI and federal Grand Jury investigation of financial arrangements for the picture reportedly resulted, with no indictments forthcoming.
The China documentary with its dubious provenance drew a mixed reaction from critics, with Sam Adams of the Los Angeles Times writing, "Narrator Martin Sheen draws prefatory distinction between the odious practices of the Chinese government and its 'good, hard-working people,' but it's obliterated by graphics that depict the country as a knife plunging deep into the heart of the good ol' U.S. of A."
Added the August 2012 review, "Sheen throws around phrases like 'illegal subsidies' and 'the biggest political shell game in American history,' but the film rarely pauses to parse its own hyperbole, giving its interview subjects free rein, including one who claims that China is 'the only major nation in the world that is preparing to kill Americans.'”
This year, Navarro has been out on the Trump stump, blasting establishment trade policies and predicting that the Trump administration in waiting will retain the services of a trade negotiator who will confront the Chinese.
“I can assure you it will be the toughest, smartest SOB on trade that Mr. Trump can find. That’s the job description,” Navarro told Politico this Wednesday regarding Trump's prospective pick.
And who might the advisor be?
"That could mean former Nucor CEO Dan DiMicco, who also advises Trump," speculates Politico. "But the retired steel company chief says he has not had any conversations with the billionaire businessman about taking the job." Adds Politico: "Both Navarro and DiMicco view the deal to allow China in the [World Trade Organization] as one of the biggest mistakes in trade history."
Another player with San Diego roots joining Navarro on Trump's economics panel is Thomas Barrack, who in June started a super PAC on behalf of the GOP nominee.
Barrack has become famous for his opportune refinancing of financially distressed celebrities, including the late Michael Jackson and photographer Annie Leibovitz, both bailed out by the Republican financier after running into severe money troubles.
Barrack also came to the rescue in October 2014 with a $295 million loan to get construction started on San Diego GOP kingpin Douglas Manchester’s long-delayed Fairmont Hotel project in Austin, Texas.
Before Barrack came through with the money, Manchester, now a Trump supporter, had attempted to raise cash for his Texas venture through a controversial federal program that hands out U.S. entry visas to Chinese nationals who fund private undertakings in America.