Donald Trump hasn't made much of an effort to restrain his criticisms of the Federal Reserve this week, condemning the central bank in ways no American president ever has. Just two days ago, the Republican declared, "I think the Fed has gone crazy." He added a few hours later, the Fed "is going loco."
Yesterday, during a Q&A with reporters, Trump went so far as to say, "I think the Fed is out of control."
As the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell explained very well, presidential rhetoric like this is dangerous, and it's likely that Trump further rattled investors yesterday with his over-the-top criticisms. But to hear the White House tell it, Trump's latest tantrums shouldn't be taken too seriously.
After President Donald Trump warned that the Federal Reserve is "going loco" and "making a big mistake," his chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow stepped in front of reporters at the White House and insisted the President wasn't "calling out the Fed.""I don't think he's calling out the Fed, quote-unquote. I really mean this," Kudlow told a group of reporters in the driveway leading to the West Wing. "He has his views. But he's not saying to them, 'Change your plan, do this differently.' None of that stuff. He knows the Fed is independent and he respects that."
Yes, of course. We can tell how much he respects the independent agency by the frequency with which he tells the public the Fed is "crazy," "loco," and "out of control."
Kudlow went on to tell reporters, "The president says a lot of things. He has a lot of fun."
I realize White House officials frequently find it necessary to downplay Trump's tantrums. It's especially important when the president rattles international markets with reckless rhetoric.
But for the White House to argue that the president "says a lot of things" and "has a lot of fun" is unsatisfying for a reason.
Indeed, this dynamic has become a staple of Trump's presidency. When the Republican trashed NATO at a recent summit, American officials scrambled to reassure our allies that they shouldn't pay too much attention to what Trump says. The same thing happened after last year's NATO summit, too.
After Hurricane Maria, the president said he'd have to "wipe out" all of Puerto Rico's debts. The White House again scrambled to say Trump's words shouldn't be taken at face value.
When Trump threatened over the summer to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea, a White House source told a Politico reporter, “Don’t read too much into it.”
A few months earlier, after Trump took a belligerent posture toward our allies in South Korea, White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster had to reach out to officials in Seoul, urging them not to pay too much attention to what the president says.
It's to our benefit when the American president has credibility on matters of global importance. The fact that Trump "says a lot of things" and "has a lot of fun" isn't just a problem for him; it's also a problem for us.