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Kudlow to be top White House economic adviser as Trump adds longtime loyalist

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 3/14/2018 Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey
a man wearing glasses talking on a cell phone: President Trump has picked conservative economic commentator Larry Kudlow as his top economic adviser. © Leah Binkovitz/ President Trump has picked conservative economic commentator Larry Kudlow as his top economic adviser.

Conservative commentator Larry Kudlow on Wednesday accepted an offer from President Trump to head the White House’s National Economic Council, adding a charismatic analyst and generational peer to the president’s inner circle.

The move comes as Trump is rapidly making a series of major personnel changes inside of the administration and looking to longtime loyalists who encourage his extemporaneous and combative style, following months of frustration with aides and Cabinet officials who often sought to temper him.

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Kudlow, 70, had been seen inside the West Wing as the front-runner for days, but Trump formally offered Kudlow the job on Tuesday night to replace former Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn, who resigned last week, largely over his opposition to Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Kudlow and Trump then spoke again by phone on Wednesday, and the longtime CNBC personality and host accepted the job, according to three people familiar with the decision. An announcement is being planned for Thursday, once Trump returns to Washington from a trip to California and Missouri. The people familiar with the decision were not authorized to speak publicly.

The White House said later Wednesday in a statement that “Larry Kudlow was offered, and accepted, the position.”

Kudlow is described by White House officials as someone who clicks with the president personally and politically, although Kudlow has been averse to Trump’s hard-line approach to trade policy. Trump now sees that kind of close rapport as central to his presidency, especially after clashing with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was ousted on Tuesday, and others who have worked in the White House over the past year but have since departed, the people said.

Kudlow, born and raised in New Jersey, shares with Trump a hard-charging personality and an eclectic history of roaming the worlds of politics, entertainment and elite business. Both men favor expensive tailored suits and bright-colored ties and have hosted television programs. In past decades, they have frequently connected socially at business and Republican functions.

“So handsome,” Kudlow joked in a Wednesday appearance on CNBC, describing Trump’s reaction to seeing Kudlow’s image on television.

Kudlow was dining at Cipriani restaurant in Manhattan with friends on Tuesday when Trump called, according to one person briefed on the discussion.

Kudlow was also an adviser to Trump during the 2016 campaign and worked closely with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the design of an initial tax plan, regularly arguing in favor of sweeping tax cuts. Throughout Trump’s first year, Kudlow has offered informal advice on his economic agenda.

“I’m looking at Larry Kudlow very strongly. I’ve known him a long time. We don’t agree on everything but in this case I think that’s good,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday as he headed to California. “I want to have a divergent opinion. We agree on most.”

Trump added, “Larry has been a friend of mine for a long time. He backed me very early in the campaign. I think the earliest, I think he was one of my original backers. He’s a very, very talented man, a good man.”

In media appearances in the past month, Kudlow has been critical of Trump’s proclamations imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports — opposition that for other candidates might have been disqualifying.

On March 3, Kudlow joined conservative economists Steve Moore and Arthur Laffer in a column for CNBC.com that was sharply critical of Trump’s tariffs proposal. Conversations between Trump and Kudlow in recent weeks have focused on coming to an understanding on trade even as they expressed broad agreement about the economy, the people familiar with the appointment said.

Kudlow’s view of the current economy is mostly sunny. “When [the Republican-authored tax law] is combined with President Donald Trump’s deregulation agenda, we see no reason why the economy cannot grow for a sustained period at 3 to 4 percent growth — up from 1.6 percent in Obama’s last year,” he wrote in February, adding he remains concerned about the prospect of a “weak and depreciating dollar, surging inflation, spiking interest rates, plus financial or commodity bubbles.”

Kudlow’s statements during the start of the U.S. economic recession have been scrutinized again this month as he has inched closer to taking the White House post. In a December 2007 column, just ahead of the 2008 global financial crash, he wrote, “There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen.”

Kudlow is friendly with White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who has championed Trump’s tariffs. Another ally of Kudlow inside the White House is senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, who forged a bond with him during their years together as conservatives working in national politics and media in New York.

Kudlow previously worked in Ronald Reagan’s White House and on Wall Street as a prominent corporate economist, but he has spent much of his time in recent years working for CNBC and other media outlets, most notably hosting “The Kudlow Report” on CNBC, a program that often featured interviews with Republican leaders and presidential candidates. Occasionally, he has flirted with running for office in New York or in Connecticut, where he lives.

In the early 1990s, Kudlow publicly acknowledged he sought treatment for cocaine and alcohol problems, which he has since spoken about candidly.

“I had a rough time with the alcohol and cocaine. I had to resign from Bear Stearns. That was in the winter of ‘94,” Kudlow told Crisis magazine in 2000, crediting the experience for prompting him to convert to Roman Catholicism.

Trump, who weathered countless scandals and dramas in his career, does not care about that part of Kudlow’s past, an official said. Instead, the official added, he wants someone by his side who “looks the part” and can be a salesman for an administration as it heads toward the midterm elections.

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