Before New Hampshire: Remembering Manufacturing Policies of Candidates Past

By Matthew McMullan
Feb 09 2016 |
Look at the mischief in those eyes. | Photo by Marc Nozell

The crowded presidential field has had a lot of opinions on industrial policy.

Steel yourselves, America! Today is the New Hampshire primary. By tonight, we’ll have its winners and losers. And a few campaigns may even call it quits, just as some did after struggling through in the Iowa caucuses.

It’ll be hard to say goodbye to many of the presidential hopefuls we’ve grown so close to over the last few months of incessant news coverage. So before we lose any more of them this week, let’s take a moment to remember the candidates have already hit the dusty trail.

Rollin' Rick Santorum

He won the caucuses in 2012, and didn’t do too hot this time around, but every county in Iowa saw a little bit of one-time Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) leading up to last week’s vote. A big part of his stump speech? Manufacturing. Seriously, he brought it up a lot. He even told an Iowa crowd – most likely, more than once – that manufacturing would be the focus of a Santorum presidency.

Rick had a very right-of-the-aisle approach to life, and it informed his views on how best to revive American industry. To wit: He was calling for a flat tax and widespread deregulation, and he spent a lot of time saying things like “you don’t have to go to college, but you don’t need to go to college right after you finish high school. Get a trade, learn something. These are 40, 50, 60, $70,000-paying jobs that can get you started in a career.” Santorum was big on skills training.

If a Republican doesn’t win the White House this year, it’s not crazy to think Rick Santorum will be on the stump again in 2020.

Handsome Mike Huckabee

Like Santorum, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee touched on manufacturing policy often during his campaign. He also offered similar fixes: more skills training for American workers and a simpler tax code. What set him apart, however, was the connection he drew between manufacturing and national security.

“If someone else is supplying bullets, bombs, tanks, planes, trains, trucks and ammunition, then whoever is supplying that owns us,” Huckabee said in December. “So I don’t think we should let anyone out-manufacture us.”

Ol’ Huckabee wasn’t keen on the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, either, worrying that it didn’t do enough to keep government-subsidized foreign competitors out of the marketplace. Which sounds a little bit like …

Mean Martin O’Malley

When it came to industrial policy, most of what the former governor of Maryland had to say came in the context of trade. For instance, O’Malley thought currency manipulation should be addressed via international trade agreements like the TPP, and also worried about tricky rules of origin in such deals.

One thing O’Malley was sure of? That manufacturing has rebounded under the Obama administration. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we’re not so sure we agree.  

We should thank these unlucky candidates for their contributions to the debate. But now it’s time to turn our eyes back to New Hampshire. Want to know where the frontrunners stand on manufacturing policy? Find out more here.