Quick, raise your hand if you’d like to go to work for the Trump White House. The president has said he has plenty of willing candidates, with Larry Kudlow being tapped on March 15 for National Economic Council director among them. We are, however, reminded of the comment from White House chief of staff John Kelly that he was being punished by God in moving from the Department of Homeland Security to the White House.
One has to credit either Kudlow’s optimism, sense of patriotic duty, or something else that we’re missing given the chaos we’ve witnessed in the past week, with the departures of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn, among others. Cohn’s advice on trade, no doubt informed by his experience as an investment banker and Goldman Sachs executive, failed to prevail.
Since Kudlow has been critical on-air of the president’s decision to back trade tariffs, and of the president’s views on trade in general, the commentator and former Reagan administration staffer seems at odds with the rising influence of White House trade adviser Peter Navarro. The president has seemed to waver between tossing a hand grenade at U.S. commercial policies and opting for proclamations but still demanding stiffer action against the Chinese, all the while seeming to risk a trade war which would put economic growth significantly at risk.
It is, at some level, intriguing that the chief economic adviser post is even being filled given that it began in 1993 under then-President Bill Clinton. After all, President Trump seems often motivated to undo all things originated under President Barack Obama. And we know where he stands with former opponent Hillary Clinton, who continues to be fodder for his tweets.
From a broader perspective, and in all fairness, a number of individuals serving both Republican and Democratic administrations have garnered respect while holding the job, including Robert Rubin, Larry Lindsey, Larry Summers, Laura Tyson and Gene Sperling.
Maybe Trump doesn’t know the position began under Clinton. At this point, Kudlow or anyone else would do well not to disclose that to the president.
In this administration, the outgoing Cohn seemed to be called upon fairly often to serve as the point man to deliver talking points, such as in reaction to the monthly employment reports. Since there’s some part of this administration’s staffing and staging mix that seems to have been pulled from the playbook of “The Apprentice,” one imagines that part of Kudlow’s mission is going to be to talk up administration policy, particularly on network cable television.
It remains to be seen whether Kudlow can step into the role of a virtual moderating influence in this administration. At this point, that seems like almost too much to ask.
There were hopes that the president’s daughter, Ivanka, might be able to serve more effectively in that role. But if the series of news reports are any indication, the standing of Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner is only in decline. Reports have also indicated that Chief of Staff Kelly’s days are numbered, too. If a retired Marine Corps general like Kelly can’t keep the “troops” in line, what are Kudlow’s chances of overpowering the hardliners, including the nativists? Or maybe he’ll go along to curry favor.
Unlike others in this White House, Kudlow does have experience in government and the private sector. But unlike television, where on-air conflict is sometimes mostly for show, the health of the national and global economy is at stake here. This is an administration where cooler heads need to prevail for the sake of the American people.
Mark Hamrick is senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com.