Former candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2012 US presidential election Herman Caine speaks at a Tea Party Unity Rally at The River at Tampa Bay...
ROBYN BECK

What Trump’s Fed picks tell us about the state of his presidency

Updated

Now that Donald Trump has publicly confirmed that he’s eyeing Herman Cain for a position on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, the Georgia Republican is starting to reflect on his upcoming confirmation hearings. Cain apparently wants the job for which he has no meaningful qualifications, but he isn’t sure he’ll get it.

“It’s an honor to be considered, whether or not I will make it through this process – time will tell,” Cain said. “Would I be disappointed if I don’t make it through this process? No.”

He’d have lots of company.

When Trump chose Republican pundit Stephen Moore to serve on the Federal Reserve board, the president had obviously made a uniquely ridiculous choice. For a variety of reasons, Cain might actually be worse.

Among the most glaring problems with the failed presidential candidate joining the Fed board is that Cain doesn’t appear to understand economic policy at the most basic level. A Washington Post analysis described his views on monetary policy and financial regulation as “quack-tastic.”

The New York Times added that there’s an underappreciated threat to these political tactics:

All presidential appointees to the Fed’s board of governors come with their own political point of view, which generally dovetails with the president who appointed them. But typically they have also brought deep technical expertise and an inclination to keep political dimensions out of Fed debates.

“People around the table did have political views, and I did, too,” said Alan Blinder, who was appointed vice chairman of the Fed by President Bill Clinton and is more recently the author of “Advice and Dissent,” about the role of politicians versus technocrats in shaping policy. “But you weren’t supposed to bring them into the room when it was time to make a decision, and people didn’t.”

That is the tradition that Mr. Trump’s approach endangers.

That’s true, of course, but let’s not forget that it’s an approach Trump seems to have stumbled onto quite recently.

I looked up the existing members of the Fed board the other day and was reminded that Moore and Cain won’t be this president’s first choices. On the contrary, in his first two years in office, Trump nominated three other Fed governors: none was especially controversial, and each of the three were confirmed with at least some bipartisan support.

On the surface, this helps prove that the fierce pushback Moore and Cain are facing – from economists, from the finance industry, from those who take economic policymaking seriously – has nothing to do with politics or partisanship, since Trump’s other nominees barely raised an eyebrow.

But just as importantly, it tells us something more unsettling: Trump may be getting worse.

In his first two years, there was an implicit understanding that in some areas, the president couldn’t play reckless and unnecessary games. The Federal Reserve was one of these areas: Trump was told that the health and stability of the economy is simply too important for amateurish nonsense, and he went along accordingly.

In Trump’s third year, however, he’s unrestrained. The ostensible grown-ups have left the White House; the hand-holding period is over; and what’s left is a hapless president with no one willing to tell him, “This is crazy.” Indeed, Trump has surrounded himself with officials who take pride in letting the president do as he pleases.

Given their backgrounds, Moore and Cain would hardly qualify for jobs in the Federal Reserve’s giftshop, much less its board of governors. Trump’s indifference toward that reality tells us quite a bit about the state of his presidency.