Peter Navarro with Wilbur Ross and President Trump
Peter Navarro (right) at the White House with Wilbur Ross and President Trump. Image from White House video

The man leading President Trump’s escalating trade war had a surprising role in San Diego politics two decades ago.

Peter Navarro, now Director of the National Trade Council, ran for local and state offices five times as a Democrat or independent while living in San Diego and teaching economics at UC Irvine.

In 1992, he ran for mayor as an independent, finishing first in the non-partisan primary, but losing to Republican Susan Golding in the runoff. During the campaign he ran on a no-growth platform under the slogan “Don’t Yield to Developers.”

“The truth fought the lies, and the lies won,” he said after the bitterly fought election.

He ran for City Council in District 1 in 1993, winning the primary but losing to Harry Mathis in the general election.

Turning to county politics, Navarro ran for San Diego County Supervisor in 1994, losing to Ron Roberts in the race for District 4.

In 1996, he ran for the 49th Congressional District seat. Hillary Clinton came to San Diego to campaign for him but in the end Navarro lost to Republican Brian Bilbray.

In 2001, Navarro ran in a special election to fill the District 6 San Diego city council seat, but lost in the primary. Donna Frye was ultimately elected to the seat.

After his last unsuccessful City Council bid, Navarro moved to Laguna Beach and continued to teach at UC Irvine, where the one-time real estate economist became known for his strident anti-China positions.

Over the past 20 years he has written a series of popular books about what he perceives as a threat from China, including “The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought, How They Can Be Won” and “Death By China: Confronting the Dragon.”

While Navarro wasn’t able to implement a no-growth policy as mayor of San Diego, the escalating tariffs may accomplish as much. Fitch Ratings, one of Wall Street’s big three credit ratings firms, warned Tuesday that rising trade tensions could put as much as $2 trillion in global trade in jeopardy.

“The U.S. investigation into auto tariffs, possible additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, and the likely reactions of other countries and blocs, point to a potential serious escalation,” Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch, said in a report.

Trade worries have weighed on financial markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 132 points on Tuesday and is off more than 2 percent for the year to date.

But Navarro has expressed optimism about the impact of tariffs. “President Trump will have the backs of all Americans who may be targeted by Chinese actions,” he said last month.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.