The decision to pick Larry Kudlow, a longtime cheerleader of the president, is the latest move by President Donald Trump to surround himself with loyalists in high administrative posts.

Share story

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump loves big personalities, live television, the stock market and loyalty. In choosing Larry Kudlow, a CNBC television commentator, to serve as the next director of the National Economic Council, he has checked all those boxes.

Kudlow, often clad in a pinstripe suit and colorful tie, is a frequent pundit on the financial-news channel, where he opines about everything from the economy to the stock market to tax cuts and free trade. He is an unabashed prognosticator who relishes making the kinds of provocative statements that Trump has turned into an art form. He has lamented “growing government dependency,” touted tax cuts for the wealthy and lavished praise on highflying corporate executives.

Kudlow will assume the role of Trump’s top economic adviser, replacing Gary Cohn, who said he would resign after losing a battle over the president’s longstanding desire to impose large tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said that Kudlow had been offered the job and had accepted it, and that the administration would “work to have an orderly transition.”

Kudlow’s calls

Larry Kudlow’s media career, including a column, “Kudlow’s Corner,” leaves a long trail of forecasts for the U.S. economy, some of which proved accurate and others that fell short. Some key comments:

On the 2007-09 financial crisis: In 2005, he said “all the bubbleheads” looking for a housing-price crash in Las Vegas and Naples, Florida, and the wider economy, would be proved wrong. By December 2007, the month the National Bureau of Economic Research later dated the start of the recession, he was arguing there was no recession and that the “Bush boom continues.” “The pessimistas are a persistent bunch,” he said.

On inflation: He predicted in 2010 that Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen would spur higher inflation, which didn’t happen.

On trade: He criticized Trump’s trade agenda before his election and more recently called his tariffs tax hikes and prosperity killers. He’s joined other economists in warning they put at risk 5 million jobs in industries that use steel.

On the Trump stock market: He predicted the stock market would go up if Trump was elected. He was right.

Bloomberg News

The decision to pick Kudlow, a longtime cheerleader of the president, is the latest move by Trump to surround himself with loyalists in high administrative posts.

Trump ousted Rex Tillerson as secretary of state Monday and said he would nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take his place. As with the Pompeo announcement, which took Tillerson and some others in the administration by surprise, Kudlow’s selection startled some in the West Wing, who were unaware it was happening.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Kudlow said Trump had called him Tuesday night and offered the job, which he had immediately agreed to take.

“I knew I was the guy because he offered it last night and I accepted,” Kudlow said.

Kudlow, who has publicly criticized the president’s recently announced tariff plans, said Trump had a more nuanced view on trade than many people understood.

“He regards himself as a free-trader,” Kudlow said. “He does not like to create obstacles, like tariffs. But he also has to protect the U.S. And he feels that many countries” have engaged in unfair trade practices. Kudlow cited China as a prominent example, expressing a view that is widely held within the administration. The administration has taken a series of steps to curb China and is expected to announce tariffs on certain Chinese products in coming weeks.

Kudlow has long espoused a traditional conservative embrace of free trade, but it remains to be seen how vocally he will push back on the growing ascendance of West Wing advisers who are trade skeptics and have urged Trump to adopt protectionist measures to protect U.S. industry.

Stock markets, which have been rattled by the tariffs, did not react positively to news of Kudlow’s appointment Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average was down more than 200 points for most of the afternoon, once news-media outlets began reporting Kudlow was the pick.

Kudlow is a radio and television commentator and an economics consultant. He was a zealous convert to the supply-side economic policies that swept the Republican Party in the late 1970s. He is a protégé of supply-side economist Arthur Laffer, with whom Kudlow worked on Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign. Kudlow went on to serve in Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget.

Like many past National Economic Council directors, he is not an academically trained economist, but he served as chief economist for Bear Stearns and made a name advising prominent conservative politicians.

In the early 1990s, he took a leave from the firm to enter treatment for drug and alcohol addiction; his colleagues said he abused cocaine. Kudlow has spoken frequently about his addiction and sobriety in the ensuing years.

He said staying clean and sober for nearly 23 years “is the center of my life” and “my No. 1 job.” Asked whether he thought the substance abuse could prove problematic for him as a White House staff nominee, he said, “We’ll see how that plays out.”

Kudlow was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s run for the presidency, advising the candidate on economic issues and pushing him to go big on cutting taxes.

Kudlow criticized the president after the emergence of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016. He later re-endorsed him, but Trump remained angry for some time, according to people close to him.

The trade critique carried into Trump’s tenure in the White House. Like Cohn, Kudlow had been publicly critical of Trump’s push for stiff and sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. He jointly wrote a column urging the president to reconsider his plan to impose tariffs. “Trump should also examine the historical record on tariffs,” he and his co-authors wrote, “because they have almost never worked … and almost always deliver an unhappy ending.”

Kudlow said Wednesday that although he had little stomach for blanket tariffs, he was “absolutely delighted” that Trump had softened his stance since announcing global tariffs on steel and aluminum. “We talked a lot about that,” Kudlow said, adding that Trump “regards tariffs as a negotiating tool. And I think that’s fair.”