U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is the subject of a lengthy, glowing cover story in the current issue of the liberal magazine American Prospect. The magazine praises the trade negotiator as the best thing about the Trump administration, calling him "deeply knowledgeable about his subject, strategically clear about his goals, and tactically astute as a negotiator."

The cover of the magazine states, "The China Deal: Will Trump's best appointee save the president from himself?" It portrays Lighthizer as a longtime "voice in the wilderness" for better trade policy who has been given a golden chance.

"Lighthizer marks the rare case of Trump both stumbling into a better policy than that of his predecessors, and hiring the right person to carry it out," writes co-editor Robert Kuttner. The magazine's masthead is a who's who of prominent liberal writers.

The article illustrates one of the contradictory facts about Trump's trade policy: The president is pursuing policies long associated with the protectionist left, not the pro-business, free-trade right, even if activists on both sides have been reluctant to acknowledge the unusual alignment. "As critics of U.S. trade policy have long argued, drastic changes were needed. Trump, in his intuitive and feral fashion, grasped the music. It fell to Lighthizer to provide the words," Kuttner writes.

The article notes that, for many years, Lighthizer was a private attorney representing companies mounting legal challenges to China's policies. This alternated with stints in Republican administrations in which he fought for agreements that set specific goals for trade partners to meet.

Kuttner argues that Lighthizer's biggest obstacle is the president himself, suggesting that Trump may settle for a substandard deal in order to publicly claim victory. Otherwise, the article presents Lighthizer as not just smarter than others in the administration but smarter than most others in the realm of trade policy.

"With tough and creative diplomacy, it is possible both to allow China its own development model and to prevent China from breaking the rules and thriving at America’s expense. Lighthizer has the wisdom and courage to pursue such policies. Whether his boss does remains to be seen," Kuttner concludes.

[Related: Robert Lighthizer woos Democrats on USMCA]