Top members of Trump's economic team 'do not exactly inspire confidence'

The empty speaker podium in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)
The empty speaker podium in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

About six months ago, following a series of White House embarrassments, the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell made a compelling case that "the key members of Trump's economic brain trust ... do not exactly inspire confidence." The headline on Rampell's piece read, "Trump's economic team needs to grow up -- fast."

At the time, her piece was principally focused on Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, both of whom have struggled through a series of missteps, failed predictions, obvious falsehoods, and strange economic assessments.

But they're not alone. Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, delivered a presentation in the press briefing room yesterday, and as Slate's Jordan Weissmann explained, Hassett's pitch was at times "baffling."

Monday, the White House tried to present a counterargument [to Barack Obama's recent statements about when the current economic expansion began], without exactly admitting it. Council of Economic Advisers Chair Kevin Hassett stopped by the daily White House press briefing to present a series of charts that supposedly demonstrate how the economy improved after Trump was elected. "We were prepared to do this briefing a few weeks ago and there's not in any way a timing that's related to president Obama's Friday remarks," Hassett told reporters.This was not particularly convincing. Nor was the case Hassett laid out, in which he used some oddly misleading charts to try and prove that several economic trends improved sharply after Trump was elected.

Weissman did a nice job going point by point -- with charts -- highlighting Hassett's misleading rhetoric and tortured efforts to prove that Trump is responsible for an economic "turnaround" that the White House is irresponsibly exaggerating.

I've seen some suggestions that Hassett's presentation was little more than a campaign event from the press briefing room, and while there's certainly some truth to that, I think in some ways it was worse than that. It struck me as an attempt from a conservative economist, unconcerned with his reputation, to make a president feel better about himself.

As TPM's Josh Marshall put it, "This whole presentation was prepared with the aim of salving the president's ego. It's sad. Truly sad. The gist of the whole presentation isn't 'The economy is doing great!' It's 'President Obama had definitely, absolutely nothing to do with this. It's all Trump. It's all Trump.'"

At one point, Hassett told reporters, "I prefer to give blame or credit to policies than to individuals," which was unintentionally funny, since the ostensible point of his presentation was about celebrating his Republican boss.

The result was an unfortunate display -- Hassett's credibility was far  from  sterling before, and this didn't help -- but it also served as a reminder that in the event of an economic emergency, Donald Trump hasn't exactly assembled a team of top-shelf talent to help guide White House policy.

Or as Bob Woodward put it the other day, in an unrelated context, "You look at the operation of this White House and you have to say, 'Let's hope to God we don't have a crisis.'"