CLIVE, IOWA — The small businessman who hosted and supports Mitt Romney here — and makes a healthy portion of his living outsourcing manufacturing work to China — has a message for his fellow businessfolk: Don’t worry, Romney’s tough talk on China is just that. Talk.
At his final rally of the penultimate day before the caucuses kick off here, Romney blasted China, as he has many, many times on the trail.
“I’ll clamp down on China that’s been cheating,” Romney said. “They’ve been stealing our intellectual property, our designs, our patents, our know-how, our brands, they’ve been hacking into our computers. That has got to stop.”
“I will stop it if I’m President of the United States,” Romney said.
This kind of stuff is a fixture of the Romney campaign stump speech. And it’s given his opponents pause. Jon Huntsman has said Romney’s promise to “brand China a currency manipulator” is dangerous talk that could lead to a costly trade war.
Romney’s Clive remarks came in the manufacturing center of Competitive Edge, an Iowa firm that makes branded items for promotional campaigns. Much of their work is done in China, as the company’s website points out, and owner David Greenspon told me after Romney’s speech that, though he is a supporter of Romney and plans to vote for him, he shares Huntsman’s take on Romney’s China rhetoric.
“You don’t push China. If you push China you’ve got a problem,” he said, adding, “Huntsman is right about China.”
This is not to say that Greenspon doesn’t have a beef with China. He agrees with Romney that the country is unfair in its trading practices and explained to me that though “I’m part of the problem” when it comes to companies sending work to China, he’s working hard to lessen his reliance on the country.
He also said he doesn’t think Romney’s being completely serious when it comes to his tough China talk.
“I think the rhetoric of a campaign is different than the actual application,” he said. “[Romney] will sit down and he will get the right people in, he will take the advice of maybe a Huntsman who will say, ‘this is how to handle China.’”
You need leadership, this is a leader. You can get all those other pieces and put them under that umbrella and you can get all of this right. I don’t think he’s an expert in every area, but I think of all the choices out there, he’s got all the elements to get us to where we need to go because he’s going to go get the team. We don’t have a team yet. We have to build that. So we now have a pretty good coach. And the coach that there are problems, and he knows that people have expectations and he also knows that he can’t do it immediately.
When it comes to actually governing, Greenspon said he expects Romney will take a much softer approach to China at the urging of his supporters in the business community.
“I think he would sit down with China, and he would sit and he would get brought up to speed with every one of the people that are now in our trading delegation — a lot of our companies make money there,” he said. “You’ve just got to find a happy medium.”
“I think the happy medium he’ll put together,” Greenspon continued. “I don’t think any of these words you can weigh by themselves as exclusive sound bites. That’s my understanding of it.”
I asked him if he’d talked to Romney about China. Greenspon said he “talked more about leadership,” but it was clear where he thinks Romney will come down on China once in office.
“I don’t have a complaint, I’ll put my two cents in,” he said of their conversations. “First get me the leadership and then we can figure out what the platform will be and its fine little minutiae.”