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Trump defends economic team: 'I just don't want a poor person'

It was an unscripted peek into Trump-brand populism: rich people are smart, Wall Street insiders are capable, and it's best to be skeptical of poor people.
Image: President Donald Trump waves before delivering keynote address
U.S. President Donald Trump waves before delivering keynote address at Liberty University's commencement in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., May 13, 2017. 

After last fall's presidential election, as Donald Trump's team took shape, it was hard not to notice that the new administration would be led in part by several Wall Street billionaires. Last night, the Trump campaign hosted a rally in Iowa, where the president shed some light on his perspective.

"So somebody said, 'Why did you appoint a rich person to be in charge of the economy," Trump said to a group of his supporters at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. "I said, 'Because that's the kind of thinking we want ... because they're representing the country. They don't want the money.""And I love all people -- rich or poor -- but in those particular positions, I just don't want a poor person," Trump continued.

As the Washington Post's report added, in context, "those particular positions" referred to Trump's secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, whom he called a "the legendary Wall Street genius," and Gary Cohn, his economic council director who was the president of Goldman Sachs -- a title that Trump repeated four times.

It's quite a change in perspective in light of what Trump told voters before the election. As regular readers may recall, during the Republican presidential primaries, one of Trump's most common attacks against Sen. Ted Cruz was blasting the Republican senator’s ties to – you guessed it – Goldman Sachs. “Is Cruz honest?” Trump asked in January. “He is in bed w/ Wall St. & is funded by Goldman Sachs.” Trump added,  "Goldman Sachs owns [Cruz], he will do anything they demand. Not much of a reformer!"

In the general election, the fact that Hillary Clinton once gave a speech to Goldman Sachs was also a central line of attack, with Trump claiming the investment giant has “total control” over her.

Now, however, the president has surrounded himself with a half-dozen Goldman Sachs alum -- a point Trump believes is worth bragging about. The swamp, I'm afraid, isn't being drained.

What's more, note the underlying assumption behind the boasts: the president genuinely seems to believe that it's just common sense to put Wall Street millionaires and billionaires "in charge of the economy" -- because they're Wall Street millionaires and billionaires.

Trump doesn't "want a poor person" in a position of authority, because in his mind, a poor person must be incompetent. Otherwise, as the president sees it, he or she wouldn't be poor.

It was an revealing peek into Trump-brand populism: rich people should be seen as smart, Wall Street insiders should be seen as capable, Goldman Sachs must be synonymous with expertise, and it's best to be skeptical of poor people.

Last fall, Stephen Moore, a conservative economist who advised Trump during the campaign, told a group of Republicans that the party's economic vision had taken an important turn. "Just as Reagan converted the GOP into a conservative party, Trump has converted the GOP into a populist working-class party," Moore said at the time.

No, actually, he hasn't.