"This country has to do three things to stay free: feed itself, fuel itself, and fight for itself."
— Mike Huckabee, launching his 2016 campaign

By Robert W. Patterson

Not long ago, pundits were dismissing Mike Huckabee as a religious-right candidate whose folksy demeanor wouldn't fly outside the South. Yet in his presidential announcement this month, the former Arkansas governor is already distinguishing himself as the Republican with the most compelling vision in a generation.

Insisting "we need to be able to fight for ourselves by bringing manufacturing back to our communities where we make our own planes, tanks, bullets, and bombs," Huckabee is breaking from the globalist-corporatist groupthink that has handicapped the post-Reagan GOP. His championing of domestic nation-building imperatives that Alexander Hamilton outlined in Philadelphia will resonate not only in Middle America, but also in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

A strong dose of economic nationalism couldn't be timelier, as a Democratic president and a Republican Congress prepare to deal away more prime sectors of our economy to rival nations, as well as third-world backwaters, via the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Huckabee cuts through all the "free-trade" happy talk, noting that "unbalanced trade deals ... undercut American workers, and drive wages lower than the Dead Sea."

Yet more concerning to Huckabee is the threat to national survival as Washington and Wall Street have abandoned our healthy economic independence for dysfunctional codependency on foreign powers.

It's the inverse of Hamilton, the founder who in 1791 advised the Second Congress that "every nation ought to endeavor to possess within itself all the essentials of national supply." Our first treasury secretary's national strategy transformed the fledging republic into a continental superpower and preserved American independence for 200 years. But today, bowing to the gods of globalization is decimating the industrial base needed for maintaining a defense second to none.

Thanks to an unprecedented wave of subsidized and "dumped" foreign steel, we no longer produce enough steel to supply our defense and infrastructure needs. And trade surpluses in advanced technology are gone, as we face troubling inadequacies in defense-related industries such as propellant chemicals, batteries and photovoltaics, specialty metals, hard-disk drives, and flat-panel displays. Not to mention our reliance on foreign suppliers of semiconductors, printed circuit boards, and machine tools.

Most disheartening: the emasculation of the U.S. aerospace sector. As Eamonn Fingleton has detailed in Forbes, Boeing has led the crown-jewel industry in "one of the most outrageous sellouts in modern business history": transferring technology and production secrets achieved via defense contracts at the expense of U.S. taxpayers to its international "partners," especially Japan.

Now fancying itself a "systems integrator," Boeing merely assembles airplanes here at home, relying on overseas vendors for high-end components from avionics to jet engines and wings, a down-shifting that Fingleton also sees occurring in the U.S. auto industry. Yielding America's "comparative advantage" in plane-making, and "consciously cooperating in its own demise," the company has turned David Ricardo's free-trade theory on its head.

British historian Paul Kennedy sensed this erosion of the "arsenal of democracy" in his 1987 classic, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: "Were there ever to be a large-scale future war ... one is bound to wonder what impact upon U.S. productive capacities would be after years of decline in certain industries."

Kennedy's fears have become reality, warns Dan DiMicco, former Nucor CEO. As he notes in his new book, American Made: Why Making Things Will Return Us to Greatness: "For 30 years we have supported a failed business model of our economy that said we could ignore being a nation that creates, makes, and builds things; that we could remain a rich nation that only services things."

Even the 1999 Nobel Prize winner and father of supply-side economics, Robert Mundell, laments: "It has been a mistake to let U.S. manufacturing run down so low. While other nations have industrial policies to maximize their trade benefits, the United States leaves itself open like a naked woman. A big problem is with nations that may prove to be future enemies."

In short, America can't afford to lose any more industrial capacity. The pending TPP portends to expand commerce for the United States and 11 other nations. But its true significance is the de facto surrender of America's automotive sector to the Japanese car industry, aided by the same currency manipulation that has boosted China. If ratified by an unwitting Congress, the Pacific pact would leave the country vulnerable in a perpetually hostile world.

To ensure we don't lose the next war — including stealth trade wars aimed at wiping out our industrial base — Huckabee's call for "bringing back manufacturing to our communities" like Philadelphia, a former industrial powerhouse, deserves a full hearing. By hitting a chord that resonates not only with historians, economists, and Founding Fathers — but also with working Americans — the gifted communicator may achieve just that.

Robert W. Patterson served in the administrations of President George W. Bush and Gov. Tom Corbett. rwpatterson79@verizon.net ; @RWPatterson