President Donald Trump has named Lawrence Kudlow, best known as a television (CNBC) commentator on economic and financial issues, to a prestigious administration post, head of the National Economic Council. The Director of the NEC is often informally called the president’s top economic advisor. POTUS gets who he wants in this regard, the position does not require Senate confirmation.
Kudlow is replacing Gary Cohn, who headed the NEC from January 2017 until earlier this month. Cohn is widely thought to have quit because of his disagreement with the President’s imposition of trade barriers on steel and aluminum imports. Trump himself said that he parted ways with Cohn because Cohn is a “globalist.” But, Trump assured the world, “I still like him.”
Is Kudlow less of a globalist (whatever exactly that means) than Cohn was? Is he less devoted to free trade? These are questions that have focused much discussion since Kudlow’s name came up.
Other names were floated as possible new NEC directors after Cohn’s departure. One of these at least would have been a promotion from within the administration’s own ranks: there was talk Christopher Liddell, who currently works under Jared Kushner in the White House Office of American Innovation, might get the post. One of the points considered in Liddell’s favor was precisely that he has publicly expressed worries about “unbridled free trade” among nations, worries that echo POTUS’ views.
Right Wing View
Two years ago Kudlow wrote, “I believe China is a major trade violator….Something must be done about it.” That view is certainly congenial to the Trump administration.
The right wing blog Breitbart emphasizes two points in its coverage of the Kudlow appointment. First, that he does have free trade views (is apparently closer to Cohn than to Liddell on such matters) and so there may be continued arguments over the Trump tariffs. But, second, the coverage also emphasizes that Kudlow is a team player, and would mute his criticisms once he saw that a contrary decision had been made.
Some of Trump’s supporters, though, are worried that he isn’t enough of a team player. On twitter, one Trump admirer writes that Kudlow “is a closet globalist and never-trumper (like Cohn).”
On the other hand, other Trump admirers, including one who calls himself “Hell on Wheels,” are very supportive of this appointment. Mr “Wheels” writes that Kudlow “is someone I have always followed and watched when he was on TV. He is for free, fair trade and a very smart choice by President Trump.”
Left Wing View
On the left the general attitude toward Kudlow is quite unfavorable. Mark Bear, writing at PoliticusUSA, expressed the leftward view well, referring to some of Kudlow’s writings and broadcast statements during the period 2007-08 as evidence of his blindness.
Further, Bear refers to writings of Kudlow’s earlier in the (second) Bush administration, when a war in Iraq was still in the windshield, not yet in the rear view mirror.
“Kudlow actually believed … an invasion into Iraq would serve as a ‘shock therapy….’” and so as a good thing for the economy, Bear writes.
This is more, to Bear, than simply a wrong prediction. This is a wrong frame of mind. The ‘shock therapy’ idea suggests that Kudlow, like Trump, believes that might makes right.
Meanwhile at Slate, Jordan Weissmann is evidently trying to be kind. In his own way. He says that the appointment of Kudlow to head the NEC is an “objectively more reasonable choice … than Rick Perry was to oversee the Department of Energy or Ben Carson was to sit atop the HUD.”
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has said that the appointment of Kudlow to a key economic policy post is a move analogous to the (still hypothetical) appointment of William Shatner as admiral of the 7th fleet.