San Diego's Navarro odd addition to Trump team?
Donald J. Trump’s billionaire boys’ club economic team, charged with saving the working class, has but one academic economist outlier: University of California-Irvine business professor, and former San Diego anti-establishment provocateur, Peter Navarro.
The odd coupling of San Diego’s Anti-Builder Bad Boy Navarro to Big Builder Bad Boy Trump has politicos in America’s Finest City, friends and foes alike, a-Twitter with reactions on social media ranging from disbelief to “I told you so.”
The notorious Navarro that most San Diegans knew couldn’t have had more divergent views on municipal policy, land use and environmental protection than those of Trump, whose sharp-elbowed manipulation of zoning laws and dismissal of environmental regulation is legendary.
In fact, Navarro railed against big developer influence at San Diego City Hall, battling to stop big bad builders from obtaining zoning changes to convert open-space and single-family home neighborhoods into high-price, high-rise and high-density developments.
With his grass-roots organization, PLAN (Prevent Los Angelization Now), formed with a tight-knit group of academics and activists, Navarro was the neighborhood and environmental hero, a tough talker waving his arms in front of bulldozers.
Now the former San Diegan is working for that biggest, baddest bulldozer, Donald J. Trump.
So how can it be that Robin Hood is feasting at the sheriff of Nottingham’s table? Former San Diego colleagues and supporters would like to know.
The best explanation for the strange marriage is more about temperament, style and media mastery than any belief system, which with the exception of free trade phobia, for both is mercurial and even shifty.
Like Trump, Navarro had the singular ability to use witty, digestible and sharply pointed bites, tailor-made for television and radio consumption. The camera loved his Brad Pitt looks. Grabbing media attention by getting in politicians’ faces was a snap. He was great television.
Not all the local press was so enamored. The conservative daily paper editorial board at the time detested him. But the animus from the paper merely signaled to those outside power broker circles that Navarro was their advocate, an outsider and a victim of an establishment press.
Using his media savvy, Navarro, with little institutional support, won a general election slot for mayor of America’s seventh largest city, defeating in the primary a well-financed developer-friendly councilman he dubbed “Bulldozer Ron.”
His message was that a smart economist outsider knew best how to handle finances and would stand up to the “corrupt” developer-dominated establishment chowing down at the municipal trough. His close loss in the general election to Susan Golding began a bitter public feud that never abated: revenge politics a la Trump vs Lyin’ Ted.
Navarro ran for three other offices variously as a Republican, independent and then Democrat in a targeted 1996 congressional race attacking Trump friend, Newt Gingrich, calling his opponent “Newt Bilbray.” The Democratic Party chieftains and constituents were almost as wary of reminted Navarro the Democrat as Republicans are of Trump.
And as goes Trump, Navarro’s media antics wore thin, the charismatic persona giving way to a thin-skinned arrogance and a siege mentality under the scrutiny of a national press. His negatives soared.
The more critical the press coverage, the more snarly he became with interviewers and on the debate stage. Trump’s wars with The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, among others is reminiscent of Navarro’s infamous temper tantrums at editorial board interviews when on the defensive.
The late, great political columnist David Broder wrote after interviewing Navarro in 1996 that the Democrats should win the 49th congressional district race except for that fact that the candidate was pugnacious and political party-hopping Peter Navarro. Other unflattering portraits emerged from the prognosticators.
Even a rousing rally with First Lady Hillary Clinton at his side could not save Navarro from himself. Et tu, Brute.
In the end, Navarro blamed the media and a rigged campaign finance system for his electoral defeats, as will his newly found coattail, Mr. Trump, when his bell tolls in November.
Strange bedfellows, these two from opposite coasts and backgrounds. But putting core beliefs aside, which both easily do, the Trump/Navarro relationship which at first confounds is a marriage of like personalities.
Ross is the former communications director for Navarro for Congress. She is a freelance writer living in San Diego.