Multiple media outlets reported early Wednesday afternoon that Larry Kudlow, the columnist and CNBC commentator, has accepted Donald Trump’s invitation to serve as Gary Cohn’s replacement as the head of the National Economic Council.
Kudlow has, in some respects, a more conventional résumé for an NEC chief than Cohn, having begun his career as a staff economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, served in Ronald Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget, and worked as chief economist at Bear Stearns. Cohn, by contrast, was really a trader and a businessman and not an economist at all.
That said, by all accounts, Kudlow is being hired more for his presence as a media personality than for his academic chops.
As the New York Times reported in 1995, “Kudlow made a highly public confession of his drug problem shortly after he was forced to resign as chief economist at Bear Stearns,” after which he “made a fresh career start as a conservative political commentator for television and magazines.”
As a media personality, Kudlow is a dogmatic supply-sider who tends to suggest tax cuts as a panacea for all ills. He also has highly questionable judgment as a prognosticator, publishing a column titled “The Bush Boom Continues” on the inauspicious date of December 7, 2007, right as the economy was tumbling into the deepest, longest recession in decades.
He is also, interestingly, not necessarily closely aligned with Trump on issues that divide him from congressional Republicans. He blasted Trump’s approach to trade with a quick column titled “Tariffs Are Taxes,” which makes the accurate point that tariffs are taxes and thus dogmatically anti-tax conservatives should oppose them.
Trump, rather famously, likes to watch many hours of television each day and believes that cable television is a good way to gather information, so it’s natural that Kudlow would seem to him to be an authority on economic matters. Kudlow is also unquestionably “good on television” and not necessarily a highly principled debater, so to the extent that Trump places a high priority on recruiting team members who will be effective surrogates on cable chat shows, Kudlow is likely to do a good job.
His ability to actually provide high-quality economic policy advice to the president seems more questionable. The good news is that far and away the most consequential economic policy decision of Trump’s term — the selection of a Federal Reserve chair — has already been made, and Trump ultimately came up with a well-qualified pick with sound views.