Today in Anti-China Rhetoric

Mitt Romney’s dwindling chances depend on outsized support from working-class whites in industrial states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Which is why, in recent weeks, he’s taken a harder line against Chinese economic practices. But his latest ad, “Stand Up to China,” crosses the line and moves into straight-up xenophobia. Take a look:

It’s unfortunate—given the extent to which Americans are helped by a good working relationship with the Chinese—but anti-China rhetoric is par for the course in American elections. Both Democrats and Republicans indulge, despite the fact that neither party wants to harm our trade relationship with China (or be blamed for more expensive everything as a result of protectionist policies). But this ad—with its accusations of theft and shadowy insinuations of a Chinese conspiracy—goes beyond the pale.

It also continues the Team Romney strategy of hitting President Obama with misleading economic statistics. Yes, there are fewer jobs than there were when Obama took office. But the vast majority were lost at the beginning of his term, when the economy hemorraged 3.1 million jobs between January 2009 and June 2009. Since then, there’s been two years of private sector job growth—the kind conservatives want—and 3.4 million new jobs.

Obama has such a durable advantage in Ohio that I doubt this approach will work. Indeed, when you consider Obama’s ammunition—Romney’s remarks on the “47 percent”—a shot at China won’t be enough to make up losses among working-class voters in Ohio and the Midwest. To wit, take a look at the latest Obama ad: 

Romney will have to do more than vent at the Chinese if he wants voters to forgive him for his attacks on veterans, the elderly, the disabled, and others who don’t make enough to pay income tax.