President Donald Trump tapped conservative TV pundit and longtime free-market advocate Larry Kudlow as his top economic advisor Wednesday at a time when White House policies are fuelling fears of a global trade war.
A longtime personality on business news station CNBC, Kudlow will succeed Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president who quit Trump’s team last week in protest at the decision to slap steep US tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
‘Larry Kudlow was offered, and accepted, the position of Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council,’ said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
‘We will work to have an orderly transition and will keep everyone posted on the timing of him officially assuming the role.’
Ludlow told CNBC Wednesday afternoon he accepted the job following a series of phone conversations with Trump.
‘He and I have known each other many years and it was a terrific experience,’ Kudlow said, describing their recent talks.
Kudlow has strongly backed Trump’s moves to cut taxes and reduce business regulations – but he has openly criticized the president’s tariffs move, arguing in a recent column that any benefits would be vastly outweighed by the costs.
‘Steel and aluminum may win in the short term, but steel and aluminum users and consumers will lose. In fact, tariff hikes are really tax hikes,’ Kudlow said in a March 3 column for CNBC, that noted that five million jobs are tied to companies that use steel.
‘Some of those five million jobs will be put in harm’s way. And if they sell less to foreigners, the trade deficit goes up, not down.’
Cohn’s departure came a week before Rex Tillerson – another free market advocate, or ‘globalist’ to use the dismissive label favored by the protectionists in Trump’s camp – was pushed out as secretary of state.
Tillerson is to be replaced with current CIA chief Mike Pompeo who some on Wall Street fear may take a harsher line on trade.
Balancing the team?
Wall Street stocks have been under pressure since Trump first announced his decision to move ahead with the tariffs on March 1. Stocks fell again on Tuesday on news of Tillerson’s sacking, and anxiety over reports that Trump was reportedly planning new tariffs on China.
‘Markets are unnerved by the specter of the administration tilting more in a hard line direction on policy such as trade which could potentially trigger a global trade war,’ said Western Union Business Solutions analyst Joe Manimbo. 
The hope for conventional free-market Republicans is that Kudlow, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, will offset hardcore economic nationalists such as Trump advisor Peter Navarro, who seem to be in ascendancy.  
Joshua Bolten, president of the Business Roundtable lobby group, sharply criticized the tariffs in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, while expressing hope that Cohn’s replacement would be someone ‘who supports pro-growth policies and an open international trading system.’
Kudlow for his part suggested on CNBC that Trump’s positions are not as extreme as they are often made out to be – and that some shifts on trade will be needed to protect US interests.
‘China has not played by the rules,’ Kudlow told the network. ‘I think China has earned a tough response.’