Media personality Larry Kudlow, a loquacious and energetic advocate of low taxes and free trade, has emerged as a leading candidate to replace Gary Cohn as director of the White House’s National Economic Council, people briefed on the process said.
President Trump has spoken twice in recent days with the longtime CNBC commentator about succeeding Cohn, according to three people familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
While the phone conversations with Kudlow — one Sunday and another Monday — were favorable, Trump has yet to make a final decision about an offer, the people said. Still, Kudlow is now widely seen within the West Wing as a finalist for one of the most powerful economic posts in the administration.
Beyond the phone calls with the president, Kudlow has also spoken with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, the people said, citing those talks as further evidence of how the selection process is moving quickly.
Kudlow was unavailable for comment.
Kudlow, 70, is described by White House officials as someone who connects with the president personally and politically. Born and raised in New Jersey, Kudlow and Trump share a hard-charging personality and relish being media figures — both have hosted television programs. Kudlow has also been an informal Trump adviser over the past year.
He was also an adviser to Trump during the 2016 campaign, working closely with Mnuchin on the design of an initial tax plan. But in media appearances in the past month, Kudlow has been critical of Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, opposition that for other candidates might be disqualifying.
Kudlow worked in the Reagan White House but has spent much of his time in recent years working in the media, for CNBC and others.
On March 3, Kudlow joined Steve Moore and Arthur Laffer in a column for CNBC.com that was sharply critical of Trump’s proposal to impose the tariffs.
“Trump should also examine the historical record on tariffs, because they have almost never worked as intended and almost always deliver an unhappy ending,” they wrote.
These views have given some White House officials pause but have not disqualified Kudlow from consideration, the people briefed on the discussions said. Still, they could become a factor as Trump nears his final decision, which could come within days.
But Kudlow has told Trump that he and the president agree on the bigger points of economic policy, such as a focus on tax cuts and growth, the people said.
Some advisers have told Trump to consider Christopher Liddell for the post. Liddell is a former chief financial officer of General Motors, Microsoft and International Paper. He has been at the White House since last year, but he hasn’t left a distinct impression on economic policy, an area that Cohn and Mnuchin have mostly dominated.
Cohn announced last week that he would be leaving the National Economic Council. His influence within the West Wing had waned, as Trump had recently decided to adopt a protectionist trade policy that infuriated the former Goldman Sachs president.
Cohn made numerous media appearances while running the council but also ran a detailed staff process that aimed to elevate — or, at other times, squash — certain parts of Trump’s economic agenda. It is unclear whether the president wants his next National Economic Council director to advance an ambitious agenda or spend more time with the media defending the changes that have taken place, such as tax cuts and efforts to roll back regulations.