In a move that is both ridiculous and perfectly true to form, President Trump announced that he will nominate Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, just days after saying another seat on the board would be filled by pretend economist Stephen Moore.
While these appointments might suggest an effort to aggressively bring down the average IQ on the body that determines U.S. monetary policy, they show us (as do many others) just how determined the president is to staff the government with people who make clear that protecting Trump personally and eagerly satisfying all his demands will be their most important goals.
You might say, "Don't all presidents to that?" But Trump is something different. He doesn't merely fill out his administration with people who share his views. It's much more personal than that.
A more distinctly ideological president might seek out appointees whose devotion to his party’s beliefs is strong enough that they would be willing to overlook empirical reality or the broader interests of the country to serve ideological and partisan ends.
But Trump wants something more. Partisans are helpful, since as the party’s leader, anything that’s bad for Trump will almost inevitably hurt the party and should thus be avoided at all costs. A true loyalist, however, always has Trump’s personal interest at the forefront of their minds.
Moore is a good example. While, long ago, he gained a reputation for being perhaps the most consistently error-prone economic commentator in the United States (though Larry Kudlow, the president’s chief economic adviser, gave him a good run for his money), Moore has been particularly sycophantic when it comes to Trump.
This is a man who said, “The other day I was on a panel with media reporters and I suggested in all seriousness that Donald Trump deserves the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics." He also co-wrote a fawning book called “Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy." And he even testified that Trump is “in incredible, great shape.”
Despite the large number of conservative economists whom Trump could have turned to for positions on the Fed board, he has chosen Moore and Cain. The former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, you’ll recall, made a comical run for the White House in 2012 that included such highlights as him dismissing the idea that as a potential president he should know who the leader of “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” is; acting like a seventh-grader who forgot to study for a test when asked about foreign affairs; and leaving the race after being accused by multiple women of sexual harassment.
I have no idea what Cain might have told Trump to secure the appointment, though he and Moore are both certainly advocates of the economic theory that says that when there’s a Republican in the White House, the Federal Reserve should pursue policy that expands the economy; and when there’s a Democrat in the White House the Fed should attempt to contract the economy. But in so many Trump appointments, we see how the best way to get a job is to show Trump that you’ll protect him. Personally.
The most obvious example right now is Attorney General William P. Barr, who almost certainly was appointed because he wrote a memo making the case that the president could not possibly be guilty of obstruction of justice while carrying out official acts — like firing the FBI director to shut down an investigation into the president’s campaign. Barr came through for Trump, authoring an exonerating summary to Congress that some of the special counsel’s investigators have criticized for distorting their findings.
Then there’s Charles Rettig, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and a Beverly Hills tax attorney. When Trump chose him to lead the agency, the president was surely mindful of the op-ed Rettig wrote in 2016 defending Trump’s decision to keep his tax returns concealed from the public. Rettig’s position on that question was obviously far more important than any kind of vision he might have had for running the federal government’s tax collection agency. And now that Trump is preparing to fight a congressional request for those returns, Rettig will no doubt have his back.
When he came into office, Trump appeared more willing to let his aides staff the administration with the kind of loyal partisans who might be found in any Republican administration. But over the past two years, he has learned that this isn’t enough, and has increasingly expressed regret and even anger when his appointees (See: Sessions, Jeff) begin acting as though serving the personal interests of Trump, whatever those might be, is not their first and last priority.
As Trump once told an interviewer when asked about a large number of vacancies at the State Department, “I’m the only one that matters.” And everyone who works for him had better get the message.