“For all the criticism he gets from the free trade wing of the Republican Party, he was one of the first people to ring the alarm on China years ago,” said Stephen Moore, a Heritage Foundation economist who also advised Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. “Now I think more people, including myself, look at China’s trade policies as really predatory and economically harmful.”
With Mr. Trump moving to ease tensions with his favorite geopolitical foil and with trade deals with Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea now complete, Mr. Navarro is at a something of a crossroads — a trade warrior looking for a new fight.
Mr. Navarro has embraced under-the-radar projects aimed at curbing China’s economic power, including efforts to increase inspections of Chinese packages at the ports and renegotiating Chinese postal fees. And many China hawks believe that the government’s long history of shirking economic pledges will ultimately vindicate his distrust of an agreement that does little to alter China’s behavior at home.
“I would be very skeptical of any significant agreement being made,” said Greg Autry, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and author with Mr. Navarro of the book “Death by China.” “If you’ve spent any time watching the Chinese, they don’t honor their agreements.”
Mr. Navarro’s entry into Mr. Trump’s orbit was not exactly predictable. A business professor at the University of California, Irvine, Mr. Navarro ran and lost five elections as a progressive Democrat — including unsuccessful bids for mayor of San Diego and California’s 49th Congressional District.
As a candidate in the 1990s and 2000s, Mr. Navarro supported abortion rights, gay rights, environmental protection and higher taxes on the rich. He even spoke at the 1996 Democratic Convention and campaigned that year with Hillary Clinton. In his book “San Diego Confidential,” Mr. Navarro described Mrs. Clinton as “one of the most gracious, intelligent, perceptive, and, yes, classy women I have ever met.”