Lanhee Chen at the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Aug. 26. (Photo/CNA)
Lanhee Chen, a second-generation Taiwanese-American, has become a rising star in American politics as as the top campaign policy director of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Romney relies on Chen "entirely for policy direction," Beth Myers, Romney's senior campaign adviser, told the political weekly National Journal. As policy director, Chen acts like the leader of an orchestra responsible for building a strong team with varied expertise and then ensuring that all instruments are playing in harmony, Myers said.
The 34-year-old Chen, the son of Taiwanese immigrants from California, holds four degrees from Harvard — a bachelor's, a law degree, a master's, and a PhD — all of which were obtained before the age of 32. After graduating with his first degree in 1999, Chen moved to Washington DC to work at a lobbying firm and then as a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative thinktank.
Chen joined the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign as a senior healthcare adviser and was Romney's head domestic policy adviser in his first bid for the Republican nomination in 2008. He also worked on California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner's unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2010.
Colleagues describe Chen as a tireless worker with an almost pathological work ethic. Laura Dove, an assistant secretary in the Senate who was once Chen's boss when he worked as an intern for the Senate Republican Conference during college, says Chen was "absolutely the most impressive 19 year old I've ever met."
Chen is said to be proud of his Taiwanese roots and often greets Taiwanese journalists at key Republican functions. He told reporters that though his Mandarin Chinese is not so fluent, he knows the Minnan or Taiwanese language because his parents were originally from the western county of Yunlin. He says his family frequently makes return trips to Taiwan, where they still have a lot of relatives.
The aide said Taiwan has changed a lot in the last 10 years. He called Taiwan "exciting" and praised the country for its democracy and local cuisine.
On the issue of China, Chen said the country remains an important trade partner for the United States and that while Romney does not want to provoke a trade war, he will not compromise either. Romney believes China must obey the principles of free trade and put an end to its practice of manipulating the value of the yuan, erecting trade barriers against foreign companies and enabling Chinese enterprises to steal intellectual property to the detriment of American industries. Chen said Romney's views are not just election rhetoric but a goal, and hopes that China can become a trusted partner of the US.
How far Chen's political future will go largely hinges on the results of the upcoming presidential election. For his part, Chen said elections are an interesting experience and believes he is fortunate to be able to showcase his talents.
"It always raises eyebrows when I appear on panels with people who don't look like me, or are a lot older or look like they had more experience than me," Chen told the Harvard Crimson, the university's official student newspaper, in 2007. "It's always great to destroy the stereotypes and show you can still be an effective advocate for a political issue, or in my case, for the office of president."
Lanhee Chen 陳仁宜