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Andy Puzder’s withdrawal for consideration as Donald Trump’s secretary of Labor might have been premature but for the easy surrender of the Republicans in the Senate to a left-wing slander campaign. Mr. Puzder’s replacement, R. Alexander Acosta, is a labor lawyer without any real-life experience in hiring workers, but he looks confirmable. However, this leaves the new administration with almost no sound voices for free-market ideas.
The president’s economics team is less than inspiring. It starts with Gary Cohn, the new head of the White House National Economic Council, and the man who has become the self-appointed alpha-male of the Trump economics team. Mr. Cohn, the former CEO at Goldman Sachs, has no history of free-market economic advocacy, and has contributed as much money to Democrats as to Republicans. He prevented consideration of economists President Trump might have brought aboard.
Mr. Acosta follows Steven Mnuchin, the recently confirmed Treasury secretary, also from Goldman Sachs, who appears to be a two-way leaper, too. He has given thousands of dollars to Democrats. Those who have worked with Mr. Mnuchin during the transition describe his economic philosophy as “vacuous.” He has few friends among conservatives and he’s the man the president is counting on to deliver the promised tax cut.
Mr. Mnuchin’s newly chosen chief of staff at Treasury, by the way, is Craig Phillips, a liberal Democrat who contributed more than $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee, and donated the maximum allowable contribution to the Hillary Clinton campaign. A man who is susceptible to the Trump Derangement Syndrome that has moved through Washington like an Ebola epidemic now runs the day-to-day operation of the Treasury Department. Mr. Phillips has blocked several highly regarded conservatives from strategic policy jobs at Treasury.
Inside the White House, the top two economic voices are Steven Miller, senior policy adviser, and Peter Navarro, a special assistant on trade. They are both protectionists. Mr. Navarro’s writings and pronouncements on trade range from unorthodox to bizarre. He’s no Milton Friedman, and he and Mr. Miller seem to appeal to many of Mr. Trump’s worst economic instincts.
This is true as well for the new Commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross. Mr. Ross is firmly in the trade protectionist camp, and his public policy claim to notice is having pushed George W. Bush to promote steel tariffs.
The worry here is that the Trump team lacks an ideological rudder. It’s not just that Mr. Trump has surrounded himself with trade hawks — the president ran on a campaign of deep trade skepticism, after all — but that the free-trade voices aren’t even at the table. Free traders who were up for major economic slots are said to have been effectively purged.
On fiscal policy, who will get the tax cut done? Who on his team can even make the case for supply side tax cuts? Mr. Trump campaigned on a promise of the widest-ranging tax restructuring since the Ronald Reagan administration, but so far the plan is foundering. There isn’t a voice trusted by Republicans on Capitol Hill promoting rate cuts for businesses and workers.
This is why the deliberate exclusion of sound economic voices from the Trump team is deeply troubling. Larry Kudlow, along with Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore (a regular contributor to these pages) were all senior advisers on economic policy to Mr. Trump during the campaign, but were summarily dealt out by the interloping liberals.
Their exclusion will make it more difficult to get the tax plan through Congress in a form that will jump-start growth. It makes a drift toward bad trade policy all the more likely. Most worrisome of all, when the inevitable day arrives that the “wise men” insist it’s time to raise taxes, there will be no one to save the president from himself.
Mr. Trump has not filled the Council of Economic Advisers slot yet, and Larry Kudlow is a much-needed voice of economic wisdom and reason for this White House. If he is passed by again it will be further bad news. If Donald Trump really intends to make America great again, he must surround himself with more free market advocacy, not less, and make sure that his advisers are loyal to his promise.
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