Once a voice crying out in the wilderness, the GOP trade expert has seen his ideas enter the mainstream.

Robert Lighthizer uses his hands when he talks. As a public figure, he talks a lot, so he uses his hands a lot.

Talking about corporate globalism? Fingers whip to the side. Cheap t-shirts and television sets? Palms face forward. Growing trade deficit? Forefinger stands straight up.

For decades, his hand has shaken those of presidents, foreign dignitaries, and businessmen, and has sought to guide American trade policy from an extreme to a mean. As the former ambassador would tell it, that extreme is a sort of free trade idealism that prioritizes price optimization and consumption over community values and production.

Most recently, Lighthizer served as the United States Trade Representative (USTR) under President Trump. Before that, he was a partner at a major law firm focusing on international trade law, deputy trade representative under Reagan’s Bill Brock, and chief of staff for the Senate Finance Committee when it was chaired by Bob Dole.

Since leaving office, the former ambassador has refused paid board positions because of his expectation that they would “limit [his] ability to speak on the issues,” but has accepted positions at a number of advocacy groups; he is the chair of the Center for American Trade at the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), board member at Oren Cass’s American Compass, and advisor at Mike Pence’s Advancing American Freedom. On the week of our interview, he sat for a panel at AFPI’s summit and offered a keynote at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s American Economic Forum. He continues to write editorials for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and is working on a book that will combine elements of policy prescription and memoir.

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