I would rather have the trade war go on, then see Trump retreat in any way. That is Steve Moore, the Chief Economist of the Heritage Foundation. In the wake of the Fed’s lowering interest rate, Trump’s new tariffs on China, RMB falling to a historic low and the U.S. designation of China as a currency manipulator, we need to make sense of the whole sequence of events. How are they interrelated and why did they happen? What’s next for the U.S. – China trade war, how is it going to affect the 2020 election, your investment portfolio, your job security and more. I am Simone Gao and you are watching Zooming In.
The position of director of national intelligence was created after the 9/11 terror attacks to prevent another such assault on the American homeland. The DNI, as the director is known, must oversee 17 intelligence agencies with a total budget of about $60 billion. There are few jobs more important in the federal government — or the entire country. Yet President Trump treated the selection of a DNI with less care and forethought than he would give to picking an interior designer for Mar-a-Lago.
When Dan Coats decided last month that he had suffered enough as Trump’s DNI, Trump reportedly called Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to ask what he thought about Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) as a replacement. “Burr responded that he didn’t know much about the lawmaker but would consult with a few people,” Politico reported. “But less than a half hour later, Trump tweeted that Ratcliffe was his choice.”
Trump picked Ratcliffe, it seems, because he liked the congressman’s obnoxious questioning of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in July hearings and his role in spreading cuckoo conspiracy theories about a nonexistent “secret society” of FBI agents supposedly out to get the president. But it soon emerged that Trump didn’t know much about his new nominee.
In the days after Trump impetuously announced Ratcliffe’s nomination on July 28, The Post and other news organizations discovered that the three-term congressman from Texas had greatly embellished his résumé. He had boasted that he had “arrested over 300 illegal immigrants in a single day” and had “firsthand experience combating terrorism. When serving by special appointment in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, he convicted individuals who were funneling money to Hamas behind the front of a charitable organization.” Turns out that Ratcliffe had played only a small role in a sweep of undocumented immigrants and an even smaller role in the Holy Land case; an aide told the New York Times that Ratcliffe only “investigated side issues related to an initial mistrial.”
With Senate opposition growing, Trump withdrew Ratcliffe’s nomination on Friday just five days after putting him forward. He had lasted less than half a Scaramucci. In pulling the plug, Trump both credited and blamed the media, saying, “You are part of the vetting process. I give out a name to the press and you vet for me, we save a lot of money that way. But in the case of John [Ratcliffe], I really believe that he was being treated very harshly and very unfairly.”
Ratcliffe was treated “very harshly and very unfairly” — but by Trump, not the news media. There’s a reason presidents normally vet nominees before, not after, they’re announced. It’s better both for the prospective appointee and for the president to have any skeletons uncovered before swinging the closet door wide open.
By ignoring the traditional way of doing things, Trump subjected his personal physician, Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, to considerable embarrassment in 2018 by nominating him to become secretary of veterans affairs and then having to withdraw the nomination after stories emerged accusing Jackson of “freely dispensing medication, drinking on the job and creating a hostile workplace.” The Defense Department inspector general even launched an investigation of Jackson. Learning nothing, Trump repeated the same mistake this year when he nominated Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors — posts for which they were utterly unqualified. Facing Senate resistance, Trump had to withdraw their names — but not before unflattering details of Moore’s divorce became public.
And those are the good-news stories: the nominees who never took office. Much more common for Trump has been his discovery, after the fact, that his appointments were terrible mistakes. His clunkers have included a secretary of state
- (Rex Tillerson) who devastated morale at the State Department; a national security adviser
- (Michael Flynn) who was convicted of lying to the FBI; three Cabinet officers (Interior Secretary
- Ryan Zinke, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Health and Human Services Secretary
- Tom Price) who were forced out for improper travel expenses and other ethical improprieties; a secretary of labor
- (Alexander Acosta) who had given a sweetheart deal to a wealthy sex offender; and of course a communications director
- (Anthony Scaramucci) who was fired after 11 days for giving a profanity-filled, on-the-record interview to a reporter.
Coats is the 10th Cabinet member to leave the Trump administration. In President Barack Obama’s first two years in office, not a single Cabinet member departed. Trump also has a record-setting rate of 75 percent turnover among senior, non-Cabinet officials. The cost of this constant churn and chaos is high: It becomes nearly impossible to develop or pursue coherent policies.Trump is a president straight out of “The Great Gatsby.” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of his protagonists: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” In Trump’s case, the thing that he has smashed up is America’s government, and the cleanup cannot begin until January 2021 at the earliest.
More than 20 years ago, Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw, who would later serve as George W. Bush’s chief economic adviser, published the first edition of his best-selling Economics 101 textbook. Early in the book, trying to explain why economists are often perceived as disagreeing about everything, he wrote about the role of “charlatans and cranks.” When economists appear to be at odds, he wrote, you should be aware that sometimes the apparent dissent is coming from “some snake-oil salesman who is trying to sell a miracle cure.” He was referring to the people who told Ronald Reagan that cutting taxes would pay for itself, above all a guy named Art Laffer. As Mankiw noted, the charlatans and cranks were wrong: Reagan’s tax cuts sharply reduced revenue. And the same thing has been true every time tax-cut proponents have promised a miracle. Most recently, the 2017 Trump tax cut has led to a precipitous collapse in corporate tax receipts, twice as much as projected. Yet decades of being wrong again and again has done nothing to reduce the influence of tax-cut cranks on the G.O.P. On the contrary, their grip has gotten ever tighter. Even supposed Republican moderates like Maine’s Susan Collins justified their support for the 2017 bill by saying that it would pay for itself. And on Wednesday, Laffer will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. To be fair, Laffer is known for other things besides his utter faith in the miraculous power of tax cuts. He’s also known for warning about the dire effects of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to fight the financial crisis: “Get ready for inflation and higher interest rates,” he thundered a decade ago. Actually, no: Inflation has stayed low, and interest rates are close to their lowest levels in history. Now, anyone with a long career of making economic pronouncements will have made some bad calls. God knows I have. But what makes Laffer and others like them so special is both the utter consistency of their wrongness and the fact that their influence just keeps rising despite that wrongness. Or maybe I should say that their influence grows because of their wrongness. Constantly predicting great results from tax cuts for the rich and catastrophe should top tax rates go up is a bad way to devise economic policy but a very good way to ingratiate yourself with wealthy political donors. Attacking any policy that might have helped the economy while a Democrat was president was a pretty good career strategy too. What’s striking is that at this point the G.O.P. apparently has no use for economists who aren’t snake-oil salesmen. There are serious economists — like Mankiw — who happen to be conservatives, out of some combination of personal values and judgements about the proper role of government. I can respect their positions, even when I disagree. But they have no political home. Laffer’s medal, like the appointment of the fundamentally ludicrous Larry Kudlow as chief economist and the attempt to install Stephen Moore at the Fed, is like putting up a sign saying “Only charlatans and cranks need apply.”
A senior administration official involved in the process said, “We’re not pulling out. We’re not pulling back. We’re still supportive. He’s still going through the White House vetting process and then he will go up to the Senate Banking Committee—if he gets through vetting process. In other words, no change. We’re sticking with Moore.”
When asked about Mr. Moore, Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager who remains in contact with the president, said Mr. Trump has been influenced by the fight over his last Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who came under withering scrutiny for alleged sexual misconduct and heavy drinking in high school and college.
“Judge Kavanaugh is Justice Kavanaugh because this president is willing to stand up and fight for him,” Mr. Lewandowski said. “And he’s willing to do that for other people.”
Multiple Senate Republicans have expressed doubts about the prospects for confirming conservative commentator Stephen Moore if President Trump nominates him to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. They cited among other issues his comments about women. Here is a sample.
Aug. 1, 1994 column for The Washington Times
“Probably the most objectionable pork in the entire legislation is the $1.8 billion earmarked for Sen. Joe Biden’s ‘Violence Against Women Act.’ That act sets up gender sensitivity programs for judges and police; classifies assaults against women as ‘hate crimes’ or civil rights offenses, and passes out millions of dollars to women’s groups for ‘rape education’ and a smorgasbord of other programs. The act would be more efficient if Congress cut out the federal middleman and simply required every American household to write a $20 check to the radical feminist group of its choice.”
Nov. 7, 2000 column in National Review
Explaining that his wife voted for a Democrat: “Women are sooo malleable! No wonder there’s a gender gap.”
March 19, 2002 column in National Review
Writing about the “March Madness” NCAA college basketball tournament: “Here’s the rule change I propose: No more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer vendors, no women anything. There is, of course, an exception to this rule. Women are permitted to participate, if and only if, they look like Bonnie Bernstein. The fact that Bonnie knows nothing about basketball is entirely irrelevant.”
Nov. 21, 2013 speech at Brown University
“You all know the motto for Fox News, right, John? It’s, uh, ‘Fox News: Fair Balanced and Blonde.’ Haha! I’ve met a lot of beautiful women at Fox News and it’s one of the fringe benefits of working there.”
April 10, 2014 column for National Review
“What are the implications of a society in which women earn more than men? We don’t really know, but it could be disruptive to family stability. If men aren’t the breadwinners, will women regard them as economically expendable? We saw what happened to family structure in low-income and black households when a welfare check took the place of a father’s paycheck. Divorce rates go up when men lose their jobs.”
July 19, 2016 debate at Republican National Convention
“I’d get rid of a lot of these child labor laws. I want people starting to work at 11, 12. It’s amazing how many people I meet who are successful…who grew up on a farm and started working on a farm at age 10, 11, 12 years old where you learn a work ethic.”
“If we do have a higher minimum wage, nationally…we must, must, must must have a policy that has a $6- or $7-an-hour teenage minimum wage because we’re going to price a lot of those young people out of the workforce, and they’re not going to get the training we need.”
“And by the way did you see that there’s that great, um, cartoon going along that the New York Times headline: ‘First thing that Donald Trump Does as President is Kick a Black Family Out of Public Housing?’ And it has Obama leaving the White House? I mean, I just love that one. But uh — It’s just a great one.”
Shown a video clip of that speech on an episode of PBS’s Firing Line with Margaret Hoover that aired April 30, 2019, Mr. Moore sought to defend himself, saying, “You know, that is a joke I always made about, you know, Obama lives in, you know, the president lives in public housing, but I didn’t mean it like a black person did.”
Aug. 17, 2017 appearance on CNN after Charlottesville riots
“I mean, Robert E. Lee hated slavery. He abhorred slavery, but he fought for his section of the country…The civil war was about the South having its own rights.”
“Can I say something politically incorrect? Republican women are so much more beautiful than Democratic women.”
It starts, but doesn’t end, with ditching Stephen Moore.
First, the policy. Our president’s past views on monetary policy range all over the map; he has been both an inflation hawk and an inflation dove, and he obviously has no definite and deeply held views on monetary issues, as he has no definite and deeply held views on many other topics.
But as on other issues, that lack of ideological mooring has enabled him to break loose from the stale formulas, the always-1979 assumptions, that defined a lot of conservative thinking in the last 10 years.
Shaped by the battles of the inflationary 1970s, much of the right reacted to the financial crisis and its aftermath by critiquing Ben Bernanke’s Fed for its interventionism and warning about imminent inflation. A few conservative journalists and economists dissented, arguing that the situation was very different, the ’70s weren’t returning, and if anything the Fed’s policy had been too hawkish. But you had to listen hard to hear them; for the most part institutional conservatism and Republican politicians kept up a steady “inflation is coming” beat.
Actual economic trends, however, vindicated the dissidents. And now Trump himself, for instinctive and opportunistic reasons, has taken up a crude version of their argument, jawboning Jerome Powell to discourage rate increases (a self-interested position, but also the correct one) and trying to elevate Moore in part because he currently shares the White House’s dovish line.
But a lot hangs on that “currently.” Historically Moore has not been an inflation dove; indeed when it counted he was a predictable inflation hawk, calling for monetary tightening in the teeth of the Great Recession. So it’s hard to escape the impression that his newfound dovishness is simply a hack’s adaptation to whatever Trump demands. Especially because — let’s be completely blunt here — Moore’s entire record of writings and arguments are hackish, his prominence a testament to cable-television’s appetite for partisans with think-tank titles, and those titles a testament to conservatism’s decadence.
So while Trump’s embrace of dovishness is moving the Republican Party in a sensible direction on the issue, his personnel moves aren’t rewarding the dissidents who were correct ahead of time. Instead, after making some respectable but uncreative picks, he’s trying to bring in yes-men and conservative-entertainment personalities (like his other, since-withdrawn choice for the Fed, Herman Cain) and relying on their loyalty rather than their ideas to make the policy he favors.
The desire to reward loyalists rather than intellectuals is common to politicians, and many dissident-conservative intellectuals were cool to Trump during the 2016 campaign. But most presidents make some effort to instantiate their governing ideology by elevating figures who actually believe it, rather than relying exclusively on toadies and ring-kissers and guys who look the part when you turn on Fox or CNN.
Not so Trump: All instinct and solipsism, he simply doesn’t care enough about Trumpism to find people who might carry his impulses forward once he’s gone. And so he’s bidding to do for monetary policy what he’s done in domestic policy and foreign policy already: Pursue a somewhat heterodox and populist agenda, but leave its implementation — and therefore to some extent its future — in the hands of men like Moore or John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney who represent the consensus that he once campaigned against.
That desire suggests a very plausible post-Trump scenario — especially if a liberal Democrat occupies the White House next — in which the Republican Party simply abandons his heterodoxies and returns to all its Obama-era positioning, all its reflexive policy clichés. Which in turn would set the stage for yet another Trump-like populist rebellion against this orthodoxy five or 10 years down the line.
In fairness, some Republican lawmakers appear to want to avoid this kind of pointless cycle. A younger cohort in the Senate, including Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton and Mike Lee and lately Josh Hawley of Missouri, appears interested in sustaining a conservative populism after Trump has exited the stage. And as Ramesh Ponnuru noted in a recent Bloomberg column, judging by how they questioned Powell in February, some Republican lawmakers seem to be “shopping” for a different monetary policy, one that actually learns something coherent from the last 10 years.
If those shoppers are serious, they should reject Moore on the basis of his empty intellectual portfolio, not just his dumber experiments in punditry, and they should encourage Trump to make a different kind of outside-the-box pick. I have suggested Ponnuru as a possibility before; as a journalist he has a long paper trail of rigorous, mostly vindicated takes on monetary policy, and as a representative of the right’s intelligentsia he’s everything that Moore is not.
Another clever choice would be Karl Smith, another Bloomberg columnist, a former economics professor and a prolific economics blogger, who has also defended Trump’s much-criticized tax reform (in case that matters to anyone in the White House!). Alternatively, if Trump prefers someone with a current academic title, then he should tap Scott Sumner or David Beckworth from George Mason University, both of whom were elaborating the more dovish case back when Moore was still pitching the gold standard.
Of course because they’re serious people, that “dovish” case is far more sophisticated than the White House’s palpable desire for rate cuts as re-election stimulus. Also, Sumner recently called for Trump’s impeachment … so, yeah, he’s probably off the table.
But so long as Moore’s nomination is in trouble, there is an opportunity here for some entrepreneurial senator to push the White House in a new direction — toward the actual institutionalization of the president’s better instincts, rather than just the appointment of hacks who flatter him. For it will have profited conservatism nothing to have surrendered to Trump’s rebellion, if all it gains in the end is another decade submitting to the imaginary “expertise” of hacks like Stephen Moore.
Those decades of free-market machinations are now paying off, as a quintet of Ronald Reagan administration alumni — Kudlow, Laffer, Forbes, Moore and David Malpass—united by undying affection for each other and for laissez-faire economics, have the run of Washington once more. Members of the tight-knit group have shaped Trump’s signature tax cut, helped install each other in posts with vast influence over the global economy, and are working to channel Trump’s mercantilist instincts into pro-trade policies. Blasted by their critics as charlatans and lauded by their acolytes as tireless champions of prosperity, there’s no denying that the quintet has had an enduring impact on decades of economic policy.
Most recently, in late March, and partly at Kudlow’s urging, Trump announced his intention to nominate Moore to one of two open seats on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the body that sets the tempo of the global financial system.
The announcement prompted protests from economists across the ideological spectrum—George W. Bush’s top economist, Harvard’s Gregory Mankiw, said Moore lacked the “intellectual gravitas” for the job—who warned that appointing Moore, a think-tanker with no Ph.D., would politicize the Fed. Soon, it emerged that Moore had made a mistake on a 2014 tax return that led the IRS to place a disputed $75,000 lien against him, and CNN dug up scathing comments Moore had made about Trump during the presidential primary.
Whether Moore can survive the scrutiny and pass muster with the Senate will be a test of the supply-siders’ renewed cachet. They believe they can pull it off.
“I understand there are imperfections,” Kudlow told POLITICO. “I think it can be worked out.”
Moore described some of his recent conversations with Trump, which often turn to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.
“I think his criticism of Powell is excessive and could be counterproductive,” Moore said, because it could actually provoke Powell to prove his independence by defying Trump’s wishes. Generally speaking, Trump wants Powell to keep interest rates low to decrease the chances of any economic slump before the president faces voters again next November.
Moore also recounted how he and Laffer, who began advising Trump in 2016, helped place Kudlow in his current posting.
Roughly a year into Trump’s term, as Trump’s first NEC director, Gary Cohn, prepared to depart the post, the duo sprang into action. Moore said that during this period, whenever he and Laffer engaged in their semiregular consultations with Trump, they would have some version of the following exchange:
“You know, Mr. President, you’re missing one thing,” Laffer or Moore would say.
“What is that?” Trump would ask.
“Larry Kudlow,” Laffer or Moore would tell him.
“We just drilled the message over and over,” Moore recalled. “‘Larry, Larry, Larry, Larry.’”
During that same period, following the 1974 midterms, Laffer first drewhis famous Laffer Curve — a representation of the idea that at a certain level of taxation, lowering taxes would theoretically spur enough growth that government revenue would actually rise—at a meeting near the White House with Wanniski, Dick Cheney, then an aide to President Gerald Ford, and Grace-Marie Arnett, another free marketeer active in Republican politics.
Reagan would go on to fully embrace supply-side theory, a shift from the party’s traditional emphasis on fiscal discipline, appointing Laffer to his Economic Policy Advisory Board.
Then as now, supply-side economics was criticized for favoring the rich and derided by critics as unrealistic “Voodoo Economics.” The critics got an early boost from a 1981 Atlantic cover story in which Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, aired his doubts that this novel theory was working in practice.
The piece ruined Stockman’s standing with Reagan—Laffer calls him “the traitor of all traitors”—but Stockman’s young aide, Kudlow, now 71, remained a loyal supply-sider and struck up a relationship with Laffer.
Reagan would go on to appoint Forbes as the head of the Board of International Broadcasting, which oversaw Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, and Moore worked as the research director for Reagan’s privatization commission. Malpass, meanwhile, worked in Reagan’s Treasury department. Representatives for Forbes and Malpass said they were not available for interviews.
In the 1988 presidential primary, another supply-sider, the late New York congressman Jack Kemp, lost out to George H.W. Bush, curtailing the crew’s influence within the party.
But they stuck together. Moore, now 59, first became close with Laffer and Kudlow in 1991, after he recruited them to participate in an event celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Reagan’s first tax cuts for the libertarian Cato Institute.
In 1993, Kudlow and Forbes teamed up to craft a tax cut plan for New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Christine Todd Whitman, who went on to unseat incumbent Democrat James Florio.
Meanwhile, Kudlow hired Malpass to work for him at Bear Stearns, where he had been flying high as the investment bank’s chief economist.
The next year, Kudlow crashed to earth—he left the bank and entered rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction. Laffer stuck by Kudlow, hiring the investment banker to work for his consulting firm in California when he emerged.
In 1996, Forbes, backed by Moore, entered the Republican primary and lost out to Bob Dole, but the group takes credit for getting Kemp picked for the bottom half of that year’s ticket, which lost to incumbent Bill Clinton.
And they have not stopped partying since. Members of the group have continued to actively socialize with each other over the decades, with some spending New Year’s eves together. At one birthday party for Laffer in New York, they presented the aging economist with a signed poster of the Jedi master Yoda. “I’m short, a little bit fat. I’ve got big, green ears,” Laffer explained. “I look sort of like Yoda.”
In 2015, Forbes, Laffer, Kudlow and Moore created the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, a group intended in part to counter the emergence of the “Reformicons,” a rival gang of Republican eggheads who felt the party had gone too far in the direction of laissez-faire policies favoring the rich.
Among the other 29 committee members listed in a press release were both Malpasses, Kevin Hassett, now chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Andy Puzder, who was Trump’s initial pick for labor secretary until allegations of domestic abuse unearthed by POLITICO derailed his nomination.
The group sought, with considerable success, to vet Republican presidential candidates for their supply-side credentials and to influence their platforms, holding large private dinners at Manhattan venues such as the Four Seasons and the 21 Club, so that committee members and other notable invitees—like Rudy Giuliani and Roger Ailes—could feel out the candidates.
Before meeting with the larger group, candidates would huddle with the committee’s founders to receive economic tutorials. Or in the case of Ohio Governor John Kasich, to give one. “We were all sitting there, and he would talk for an hour,” Moore recalled. “We’re like, ‘No, we’re supposed to be talking to you,’ and he’s talking to us.” Moore called the episode “Classic John Kasich.”
Though the events were supposed to be off the record, journalists often attended, and an otherwise lackluster February 2015 dinner for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker made headlines when Giuliani barged in, proclaimed he did not believe that President Barack Obama “loves America,” and insisted a POLITICO reporter could print the quote.