Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on.
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

Trump advisor: The wealthy can’t be corrupt because they’re wealthy

CNBC’s Larry Kudlow is extremely impressed with Donald Trump’s work of late, writing in a new National Review piece the president-elect’s transition “continues to go smoothly. Better than smoothly. Confidently. More than confidently. Transcendently.”

There was no indication that he was kidding.

Kudlow, an advisor to Trump’s team for months, is reportedly the top candidate to lead the next White House Council of Economic Advisers, despite the fact that Kudlow is not an economist and his track record on economic issues is hard to defend. Nevertheless, the CNBC host appears interested in joining the administration, and he knows that with Trump, flattery can be very effective.

But what was especially striking in Kudlow’s National Review piece was the assertion that the wealthy are incapable of corruption because they’re wealthy. “Why shouldn’t the president surround himself with successful people?” he wrote, referring to the rich conservatives Trump has added to his incoming team. “Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption.”

This is not a good argument.

In fact, as New York’s Jon Chait explained, disproving the claim doesn’t take much effort.
In point of fact, it does not take much effort to find wealthy folks who steal and engage in corruption. Look at, oh, imprisoned coal baron Don Blankenship, who indirectly murdered 29 of his employees by blatantly flouting safety regulations and who tried to purchase his state’s legal and political system to protect himself. (Blankenship endorsed Trump.) Or look at Vladimir Putin, a leader whose methods Trump has repeatedly praised and who has leveraged his power into billions of dollars of personal wealth.

Or look at Donald Trump himself, who was born into massive wealth, had no need to steal or engage in corruption, yet cheated hundreds of contractors of their money, defrauded thousands through scams, and frequently boasted of his success at corrupting politicians. Clearly, it is not impossible for already-wealthy people to steal and to engage in corruption.
For weeks, the left and right have been looking at Trump’s billionaire and multi-millionaire nominees in very different ways. Trump’s progressive critics have argued that the president-elect is ignoring his own pseudo-populist posturing by filling his team with economic elites, many of whom are being rewarded for their campaign contributions with powerful government posts.

Trump and many of his allies have responded with a straightforward formulation: these are wealthy people, wealthy people have had success, and the incoming administration wants successful people in positions of authority. Choosing hyper-wealthy conservatives to fill the administration, they’ve argued, is a feature, not a bug.

The public will have to decide for itself which of these arguments is the more persuasive one, but Kudlow is introducing a very different kind of argument into the equation: Trump’s team won’t be corrupt because it’s filled with the rich.

If Democrats are very lucky, other Trump allies will push this same argument.