President Trump could have picked someone who supports his trade policies to direct the National Economic Council. Instead, Trump went with Larry Kudlow, a TV personality who said earlier this month that the president has “never been good on trade.”
The selection of CNBC's Kudlow is another revelation about Trump's priorities — a reminder of his propensity to cast the administration like a television show, sometimes with characters who don't align squarely with his agenda.
Kudlow and Trump agree on plenty, but here are some of the things Kudlow has said or written this month about the president's recent decision to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum:
- “I've had this discussion with the president. I've had it for two years-plus. I won a lot of discussions on taxes, on regulations. I have not won any on trade.”
- “In the Reagan years, we used to call the free-traders the white hats and the protectionists the black hats. The black hats won this time around, and I'm very sorry because it will damage the economy to some extent.”
- “We're already hanging by a toenail on NAFTA. If we have to walk out of NAFTA or those negotiations totally break down, then this steel thing turns from a minor irritant to a major calamity for our economy and our stock market. Make no doubt about that.”
- “If ever there were a crisis of logic, this is it.”
How could Kudlow win the job after saying stuff like that? CNN's Jim Acosta laid out a simplified rationale last week.
“The president likes to watch people on TV,” Acosta said. “Larry Kudlow is somebody he likes to watch on TV.”
The press-obsessed president does indeed have a track record of hiring and considering media figures for top posts. His original chief strategist in the White House was former Breitbart News chairman Stephen K. Bannon, who previously hosted a satellite radio show. Trump briefly installed Anthony Scaramucci, a former Fox Business host, as communications director. Other candidates for jobs in the White House communications department have included Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Kimberly Guilfoyle.
Kudlow, a longtime fixture on CNBC, seems to satisfy Trump's impulse to add a little showbiz to his administration. In the wonky world of economics, the voluble former Ronald Reagan administration official who used to star in Cadillac commercials and publicly battled a cocaine addiction is as close to a celebrity as it gets.
A lower-profile candidate, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, would have satisfied another Trump impulse — to surround himself with people who agree with him. Axios's Jonathan Swan described Navarro last week as “Trump's spirit animal.”
Trump, of course, claims to welcome disagreement.
“I like having two people with different points of view, and I certainly have that,” the president said at a recent news conference. “And then I make a decision. But I like watching it, I like seeing it, and I think it's the best way to go. I like different points of view.”
Though Trump does seem to relish conflict among others, evidence that he invites others to challenge him is, at best, mixed. Just ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether Trump likes “different points of view” on how to run the Justice Department, for example.
While Trump appears ideologically malleable on many subjects, The Washington Post's Marc Fisher observed Wednesday that “there's one issue on which the president has been rock-solid consistent for four decades: his fiery demands that the United States punish countries that take advantage of American workers.”
Nevertheless, it appears that the allure of a favorite television personality was enough to override the sharp policy differences between Trump and Kudlow.