'You're looking handsome, Larry': How the reality TV president found the perfect idiot to be his chief economic adviser
Larry Kudlow isn't an economist. He just plays one on TV.
"I'm looking at Larry Kudlow very strongly," President Trump said the other day, and as a result of all that strong, powerful, muscular looking, Trump finally selected Kudlow to be the new chief of his National Economic Council. It was a decision perfectly in line with Trump's general philosophy of personnel, which is that he turns on Fox News, decides who sounds good, and then hires that person. In fact, when Trump called to offer the job, he told Kudlow he was looking at his picture on television. "You're looking handsome, Larry," he said.
We've gotten so used to cable television being the primary means through which Trump gets information, decides what's important, and determines who should advise him that it's become almost cliche, a source of easy jokes. But it's yet more evidence that the most powerful person in the world views everything through the lens of a forum where our worst impulses are cultivated and the shallowest people are given the most exposure and influence.
And in Larry Kudlow, Trump has really outdone himself. The man he's replacing, Gary Cohn, wasn't a trained economist, but at least Cohn didn't have such a comprehensive record of public idiocy. Do you think I exaggerate? Let's take a little tour around Kudlow's economic musings.
A fervent supply-sider, Kudlow never wavers from the conviction that not only is there no ill that cannot be fixed by a healthy tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, as long as you stick to that plan then nothing can go wrong. "There is no recession coming," he declared in December 2007. "The Bush boom is alive and well." We remember what happened right after, but by the next July, with the world plunging into what would come to be known as the Great Recession, Kudlow was convinced that people didn't understand just how great the economy was doing. "We are in a mental recession, not an actual recession," he insisted.
Everyone can be wrong now and then, but few people are wrong as often as Kudlow. "There is no question," he wrote in 1993, "that President Clinton's across-the-board tax increases ... will throw a wet blanket over the recovery and depress the economy's long-run potential to grow." When a genuine boom ensued, Kudlow knew exactly what had occurred. "I've always believed the 1990s were Ronald Reagan's third term," he wrote later.
But Kudlow is also a humanitarian. After an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, killing approximately 20,000 people, Kudlow took note of the fact that financial markets in the U.S. didn't seem affected. "The human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll, and we can be grateful for that," he said. Responding to critics complaining that the allegedly populist Trump was larding his administration with millionaires and billionaires, Kudlow wrote, "Why shouldn't the president surround himself with successful people? Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption." That's quite an insight, one contradicted only by the entire history of the human species.
Kudlow is not a trained economist, but he does go on television and pretend to have expertise on economic matters. And why wouldn't that be exactly the type of person Donald Trump would look for in a chief economic adviser? After all, Trump was only able to run for president because of a stint on reality television, where he pretended to be a decisive and wise business leader. The act was what mattered, and it worked.
All those eggheads and experts said Trump would never win, but he did, proving (at least to himself) that the power of TV overwhelms all. As president, he hasn't lost his faith in that power, or his conviction that TV people are the best people. Recently we learned that in an Oval Office meeting with Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin discussing upcoming legislation on VA reform, "Trump surprised Shulkin by dialing in Fox & Friends host Pete Hegseth on speaker phone to get his opinion of the legislation." Hegseth, who may be best known for throwing an axe that accidentally hit a member of the West Point marching band (though to be fair, he is a veteran), is rumored to be Trump's choice to replace Shulkin if and when the secretary finally gets the boot.
That's not to mention that Trump regularly seeks out the advice of Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro. Spending all day watching them on TV is apparently not enough; Trump needs to receive their wise counsel after the day's programming is done.
It's obvious that Trump doesn't feel comfortable around the kind of bookworms and brainiacs who are normally called upon to offer up analysis to the president. He's a TV guy, and he likes to have other TV guys around him — people who know that each segment is a new opportunity to make the sale, and what matters isn't whether you have any idea what you're talking about but that you look into that camera and say it with complete conviction.
Larry Kudlow certainly knows how to do that, and he'll make a perfect addition to the team. "I'm really at a point," Trump said not long before offering Kudlow the job, "where we're getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want." You bet he is.