The Finance 202: Kudlow's outsize media profile makes him favorite for White House job

Tuesday , March 13, 2018 - 6:30 AM

Tory Newmyer

(c) 2018, The Washington Post.

The White House economic team could soon be getting a fresh injection of supply-side swagger directly from the CNBC set, after all: Larry Kudlow, for now, has emerged as a leading contender to serve as President Donald Trump’s next top economic adviser.

The Reagan administration veteran and cable-news regular has spoken twice with Trump in recent days about replacing outgoing National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, The Washington Post’s Bob Costa, Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey report.

The process remains fluid, and Trump alone will make the final call. A handful of internal names have also circulated since Cohn announced his resignation last Tuesday - Chris Liddell, a former chief financial officer for Microsoft and GM working for the administration’s Office of American Innovation; Peter Navarro, the ascendant trade hawk who masterminded the steel and aluminum tariffs; and Shahira Knight, a Cohn deputy and his reported preference.

None of those candidates shares Kudlow’s outsize media profile, a known priority for Trump in evaluating potential hires. And while Kudlow, an avid free-trade advocate, was sharply critical of Trump’s initial tariff proposal, he walked it back last Thursday after the administration granted exemptions to Canada and Mexico and indicated others could petition for their own carve-outs. “I won,” Kudlow said on CNBC at the time. “They’re taking it off Canada and Mexico. That was the worst part for me. So this is good. This is an excellent decision by the president.”

The former Wall Street economist is said to be interested in the post, and he’s progressing through interviews with key Trump officials. From The Post story: “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.” On Monday, Kudlow’s CNBC colleague Jim Cramer called him the leading contender for the job.

Kudlow - along with Stephen Moore and Arthur Laffer - has served as an important outside economic adviser to Trump. He encouraged the president to insist on the lowest possible corporate tax rate during last year’s defining policy debate, then championed passage of the package as a historic win.

But Kudlow engaged Trump even earlier, aiming to shape Trump’s platform as he launched his campaign in the summer of 2015 (his point of contact then: Roger Stone, a decades-old acquaintance. See this Post scoop this morning for more about Stone). The following February, when National Review published an issue dedicated to conservative disavowals of Trump, Kudlow, a contributing editor, was conspicuously absent. “I’m not with them on this one,” he told a reporter in his native Connecticut.

Kudlow criticized Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged weeks before the election - he wrote that Trump’s comments on the tape were “vile, vulgar, and inexcusable for a grown man” and said he was reconsidering his support - a sore spot with Trump. From the Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender and Nick Timiraos: “During a postelection meeting at Trump Tower, Mr. Trump reminded Mr. Kudlow about the comments. ‘We nearly lost you there,‘ Mr. Trump said, according to two people familiar with the exchange.”

One key question about the job Kudlow will be filling: Does Trump want his top economic adviser advancing an ambitious agenda or out defending the record he’s already assembled? Kudlow has already proven a committed cheerleader for the tax cuts, arguing they could push annual economic growth to 4 percent, well beyond what mainstream forecasters predict.


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