Trump economic team grasps for credibility with outbreak

Published 7:01 am Friday, March 13, 2020

WASHINGTON — During the financial crisis a decade ago, President Barack Obama could look around the room and turn to an economist who served as Harvard’s president, a former president of the New York Federal Reserve and a renowned academic considered one of the world’s authorities on the Great Depression.

As President Donald Trump confronts the public health and economic maelstrom caused by the coronavirus, his economic team has a much different background.

His top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, is a former financial analyst who was a commentator on CNBC. His treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, is a Goldman Sachs veteran and former Hollywood producer whose credits include the 2016 film “Rules Don’t Apply.”

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The threat from the pandemic has sent markets plummeting and created grave uncertainty about broader effects that could turn an economy Trump relentlessly showcases to one that leaves Americans struggling and puts the president’s central argument for reelection at risk.

The collapse in stock and oil prices has become the most important test of Trump’s economic leadership team. Unlike the impeachment process that ended with Trump’s acquittal last month, there is no partisan backstop that can halt infections or restore confidence to shuddering financial markets.

“We need an adult in the room to manage these issues,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economist and co-author of “This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly,” a global history of financial crises. “Obama had an extraordinary team and so did Bush. There were great men that rose to the occasion. The current Fed team in place is very strong, but they’re not central to response here. They can help at the margins.”