Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Friday announced a new team of ultra-rich financiers and businessmen as his core economic advisers, a move that brings high-profile names to his inner circle but also may step on his populist claims to save America's middle class.
The list includes strikingly few academic policy experts, usually the bread-and-butter of campaign policy teams. Instead, the advisory team of 13 men — and no women — reflects a wide range of people from the higher echelons of American finance, including hedge fund managers and real estate investors. The median net worth of Trump's official economic advisers appears to be at least several hundred million dollars.
That wealthy group includes Harold Hamm, a self-made oil billionaire who was a top energy adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign; Dan DiMicco, a former chief executive of steelmaker Nucor; Steven Mnuchin, Trump's national finance director, who is chairman and chief executive of the hedge fund Dune Capital Management; Steve Roth, founder and chief executive of Vornado Realty Trust; hedge fund billionaire John Paulson; Howard Lorber, chief executive of the Vector Group; real estate investor Tom Barrack; bankers Stephen M. Calk and Andy Beal; and financier Steve Feinberg.
The only academic economist on the team — the only one who has a doctorate in economics — is Peter Navarro of the University of California at Irvine, who focuses on trade with China, and who three times ran unsuccessfully for public office in San Diego. The leading tax expert is Stephen Moore, who founded the Club for Growth and was a longtime columnist for the Wall Street Journal. There's a former U.S. Senate candidate, David Malpass, who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.
On a campaign staff level, the team is led by policy director Stephen Miller, a former aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and deputy director Dan Kowalski.
Trump's outsider crew at times conflicts with his message of economic populism. He has painted Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as the candidate of Wall Street, but his team is filled with hedge fund managers, bankers and real estate speculators. Hedge fund manager John Paulson made a fortune betting against the U.S. housing bubble before the financial crisis. Among the subsidiaries for Lorber's company is the fourth-largest tobacco company in the United States.
“I am pleased that we have such a formidable group of experienced and talented individuals that will work with me to implement real solutions for the economic issues facing our country," Trump said in a statement announcing the team. "For too long we have watched as President Obama and Hillary Clinton have ruined our economy and decimated the middle class. I am going to be the greatest jobs President our country has ever seen. We will do more for the hardworking people of our country and Make America Great Again.”
But others sharply criticized the choice. Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy, wrote that Trump betrayed his promise with the selection of the team.
Trump's most credible "policy" was his promise to work with the best people. By any measure, he's totally failed. His advisers are a wreck.
— Justin Wolfers (@JustinWolfers) August 5, 2016
The announcement came ahead of a Detroit speech on Monday where he will lay out his economic plan for America in more detail.
Trump's pitch has always been, in part, what you might call trickle-down expertise: The most successful members of the business worlds, the titans of the 1 percent, know what it takes to save to save the middle class. The advisers reinforce that idea. Lorber, for example, earned $42.5 million in 2015, and his compensation package, according to real estate news site the Real Deal, included the use of a company car and driver, club memberships, corporate plane use and a $90,000 allowance for lodging and expenses.
The group also reinforces Trump's credentials as an outsider, anti-establishment politician. Historically, presidential nominees carry over at least a few top economic advisers from their parties' past nominees, and they often pick up some of the advisers from their rivals in the primaries. Trump has done neither — with the exception of Hamm.
His named team has exactly zero of the biggest-name academic economists who traditionally advise Republicans.
(Trump also takes economic advice from several people who aren't listed in Friday's release, including Arthur Laffer, the former Reagan economist who is the godfather of supply-side economics; Larry Kudlow, a financial commentator who is a Laffer disciple; and Trump's own children, including his daughter Ivanka.)
Just as Trump is leaning heavily on people he knows, in industries he travels, or whose policy beliefs match up well with his own, rival Clinton's inner circle also includes some longtime associates, such as Neera Tanden and Gene Sperling. But she also has spent two years reaching out to more than 200 experts, some of whom she had never met before, to build a sprawling economic agenda.
You can see that contrast in their policy proposals thus far. Trump's are few and often repeated. Clinton's are many, and detailed. Both have the same stated goal: lifting middle-class incomes. Trump promises more detail next week on how he would do that, starting with a speech in Detroit.
The real estate mogul continues facing intense scrutiny over his qualifications for the presidency, which Hillary Clinton's campaign has eagerly exploited. The former secretary of state has regularly called Trump’s grasp of policy issues into question, homing in on foreign policy in particular and calling his views on international relations “dangerous.”