On Friday, a tension seemed to emerge between Bannon's rhetoric and Trump's actions as president. Trump ordered a reconsideration of some of the rules imposed on Wall Street in 2010 after the mortgage crisis and moved to delay a regulation meant to compel financial advisers to work in their customers' best interests. The moves are more in line with the free market orthodoxy common in the Republican Party, not the nationalist approach Trump and Bannon have taken so far in his presidency.
Bannon's positions on these policy actions aren't known. But in that they are likely to reduce costs and responsibilities for Wall Street — indeed, Trump said he was acting in part because his friends can't get loans — they seem to represent a break with the harsh words Bannon has had for Wall Street in the past.
Indeed, Bannon has said anger at Wall Street was a big part of the populist movement he was trying to foster.
Speaking to a conservative religious organization in Europe in 2014, Bannon faulted avarice for the Great Recession, “much of it driven by the greed of the investment banks.” He went on to say that bankers should have forfeited their bonuses and equity and faced criminal charges.
“The people who ran the banks and ran the hedge funds have never really been held accountable for what they did,” Bannon said. “That’s what I think is fueling this populist revolt.”
Trump's actions Friday, which simply launch reviews, will have little practical effect in themselves, analysts said. Nonetheless, the president's actions could easily be seen as a deviation from Bannon's style of economic populism.
“These orders are directionally and symbolically significant,” said Isaac Boltansky, an analyst at Compass Point, an investment bank. “It's unclear at the moment whether the driving force of financial policy in the Trump administration will be pragmatism or populism, but thus far, it appears that pragmatism will be the watchword.”
Until Friday, Trump's approach to economic issues had been much different. He issued a temporary travel ban revoking visas for tens of thousands of foreigners from seven predominantly-Muslim nations, affecting industries that rely on foreign workers in the United States. Draft executive orders circulating among White House officials would place broad restrictions on immigrants' authorization to work in the United States, The Washington Post reported.
These actions prompted objections from some in the business world, where immigrants are seen as indispensable to the U.S. labor force. Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs, said that he opposed the policy on refugees. Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick quit an advisory council of corporate leaders Trump had formed.
Trump also said he would begin the process of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, a process that could prove disruptive for U.S. firms and consumers that rely on components from Canada and Mexico.
Pundits and commentators saw these actions as evidence of Bannon's influence. This week's edition of Time asks, “Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Man in the World?”
By contrast, Bannon's stated views on Wall Street diverge from the approach suggested by Trump's actions Friday.
Bannon railed against the federal rescue of major financial institutions in 2008, calling it contrary to “the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian West.” He complained that banks were borrowing too much, and suggested that they should focus on lending to businesses, rather than trading on financial markets.
Bannon did not talk about specific policies. The banking lobby, however, has generally claimed that restrictions requiring them to rely less on debt to fund their operations or separating ordinary, Main Street retail banking from remunerative but risky trading hold back the economy overall.
Some argue that there isn't an inconsistency between populism and Trump's actions Friday. The rules imposed on banks by the Dodd-Frank financial regulation enacted in 2010 have prevented U.S. businesses from getting the loans they need, said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, who served as chief economist at the Labor Department under President George W. Bush and who advised Trump's transition.
“Nothing is better for the American people than having a growing economy,” Furchtgott-Roth said. “It's just very beneficial for consumers and the economy to have these regulations rolled back. This is a populist thing to do.”
Others, though, saw a shift in direction. On Friday, CNBC's Jim Cramer noted that Trump frequently had echoed Bannon's rhetoric on banks as a candidate.
“During the campaign, the president was not that sympathetic to big banks,” Cramer said to Gary Cohn, director of Trump's National Economic Council. “What happened between campaign Trump and President Trump?”
Cohn responded that the president was allowing his advisers leeway to pursue a deregulatory agenda, in response to arguments from the business lobby.
“He’s heard from over 50 CEOs that regulatory issues are what's slowing them down,” Cohn said. “He is giving us the latitude to fix what we think is wrong.”
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