A 2020 presidential contender unveiled a 700 billion dollar ‘Buy American’ plan today to rebuild America’s manufacturing sector devastated by the coronavirus.

It’s a great idea that free market fundamentalists despise and real economic conservatives have been pushing for. The only problem is that the candidate who unveiled the plan was presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, not the Republican President of the United States Donald Trump.

Trump even has a Buy American executive order. It is not as sweeping in scope, but it would incentivize bringing critical medical supply chains back to the United States. The order enjoys broad political support with the American public and makes intuitive sense amid a crisis that revealed America is wholly dependent on the People’s Republic of China to meet its most basic needs. 

Mystifyingly, however, the executive order continues to languish in the White House interagency process and remains unsigned by Trump. It seems nobody can tell you why. Open-source reporting from the Washington Post indicates that its opponents fear China may retaliate against the order by blocking personal protective equipment shipments to the United States. Some might observe that this fear only reinforces why such an order is needed in the first place. 

This juxtaposition reveals how Joe Biden is behaving like more of an economic nationalist than Trump in 2020 thus far. This state of affairs is galling. Trump unquestionably won the White House by embracing economic nationalism, while Biden spent nearly 40 years championing the neoliberal economic agenda that lost the Democrats the 2016 election in the first place. 

Biden vociferously championed NAFTA, China’s entrance into the WTO, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership which was loudly rejected by the American public in 2016. In a demonstration of his true colors, Biden’s own adviser refused to rule out re-entering TPP to the Wall Street Journal and would only say that it would not “be a priority” while the American economy is undergoing reconstruction.

Economic nationalists see this is a major blunder for the Trump campaign while economic libertarians think it is a major blunder for Biden. This dichotomy is best on display in the reactions to Biden’s announcement from former Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon and Freedom Works co-founder Stephen Moore. 

Bannon called Biden’s proposal “smart” and “right out of the Trump 2016 playbook,” and elaborated that the Trump campaign was “caught flat footed” by the move. Moore, on the contrary, said that plan “is a radical plan of wealth redistribution … [that would] thrust [America] into a second great depression that would hurt the poor and minorities most.”

Trump should listen to the first Steve, the one who got him into the White House in 2016 and recognizes the potent threat that Biden’s proposal faces to his seemingly rudderless re-election campaign which misses the driving engine of economic nationalism that propelled it forward in 2016. 

Unfortunately, as I’ve documented here in the past, the other Steve appears ascendant in the White House policymaking process. Moore’s response to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression has been to cling to the canard that government spending has zero impact on the macroeconomy and to offer the same tired solutions he’s spouted for nearly 25 years. 

Stephen Moore’s archaic ideas in a time when a vast majority of the American public believes the country is on the wrong track is sure to result in a resounding defeat at the ballot box.

Saagar Enjeti
Saagar Enjeti is co-host of The Realignment Podcast and Breaking Points.
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