White House's Kudlow inexplicably says virus 'looks relatively contained'

It may be tempting to think Kudlow's unfortunate coronavirus rhetoric is irrelevant, but he is an official member of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce.
Image: National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow Holds Press Briefing On G7 Summit In Canada
White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow holds a news briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House June 6, 2018.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow spoke to CNBC this morning, though if his comments were intended to reassure, they appear to have fallen short.

Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump's chief economic advisor, told CNBC on Friday that he doesn't want to "panic on policy measures" designed to combat the new coronavirus and said that U.S. growth remains strong.

At a surface level, there's nothing wrong with a prominent White House official discouraging panic and trying to reassure the public that an ongoing problem is being addressed. But just below the surface, Kudlow -- who has a notorious track record for being wrong -- went a bit further this morning that he should have.

According to CNBC's report, for example, the National Economic Council director said the economy "looks sound," which was vaguely reminiscent of John McCain insisting in 2008 that the "fundamentals of the economy are strong," even as the system crashed around him.

But more importantly, Kudlow added this morning, "[R]egarding the containment issue, I will still argue to you that this is contained." CNBC's report went on to quote Kudlow saying, "We don't actually know what the magnitude of the virus is going to be. Although, frankly, so far it looks relatively contained."

As the virus spreads, and the death toll rises, there just isn't any reason to look at the public-health emergency and see a virus that's "relatively contained." And yet, Kudlow's odd comments come on the heels of his recent assertion, in reference to the coronavirus, "We have contained this. I won't say airtight, but it's pretty close to airtight."

It may be tempting to think Kudlow's unfortunate rhetoric is irrelevant, since he's the director of the White House National Economic Council, not an official responding to the viral outbreak. But that's backwards: eight days ago, Kudlow was formally chosen to serve on the official White House Coronavirus Taskforce.

Perhaps that was unwise?