Setting aside his moment of grammatical treason the other day, Donald Trump's biggest headache in recent weeks has been getting the market to buy into his seemingly batshit multi-fronted trade wars.
For a president prone to use the Dow as a measure of his own performance, it's been an obvious frustration for this White House that Wall Street will just not buy into the notion that knee-jerk tariffs and almost feral diplomatic uncertainty are good for American business. Trump keeps repeating that he is winning and that things are going the best they've ever been thanks to his mythic bargaining ability, but data on that has been hard to come by and macro types remain hyper-focused on the potential threat posed by a surfeit of trade wars being fought at once. It's not helping that Great Britain is giving everyone a taste of what it looks like when a major global economic player buttfumbles its attempt to become a more nationalistic one.
So like any heroine lost in a forest of fear and confusion, Trump is turning to his magic dwarves for help. In the last 24 hours, the White House has paraded three of its four biggest economic players before CNBC cameras, but it seems like Kuddley, Sleepy and Crazy have not had their intended effect.
First, Larry "Kuddley" Kudlow took the stage at the Delivering Alpha conference yesterday to show everyone that he was healthy after his recent heart attack, rekindle his old "magic" with interviewer Jim Cramer and try to convince everyone that he is still tempering Trump's emotional adolescent approach to global trade. Kudlow's almost pulled it off had it not been for the fact that he failed to do anything but prove that he's [thankfully] healthy.
Here's how Larry responded to a question about having the president's attention if he's offering an opinion that Trump doesn't necessarily share:
"You know, you win a few and you lose a few in these jobs, like anything else. Sometimes you agreed with me; sometimes we didn't agree. You know, look, I will say this: President Trump has been very open, very accessible to me. I see him quite a bit during the day, lots of meetings. Sometimes you get an afternoon call, come downstairs and talk about one thing or another. Sometimes you're traveling on the airplane. He's just been great. He's open, and in meetings with five or six or eight, who knows, people, he'll go to me: Larry, what do you think? And I tell him. It's my job to tell him."
We relate to this answer. We felt the same way about our super-hot high school girlfriend who lived in Canada but we talked to all the time and did loads of sex with because she was totally real and was open and accessible to us but we had to break up with because she got real clingy or whatever.
Larry is an unctuous charmer with an Upper East Side pedigree and TV fame, so while we're sure that Trump likes Larry as much as he can like anyone who isn't Trump, we're even more certain that Trump's mind slams shut at the mere hint of disagreement. Larry is a dogmatic free-trading conservative who worships at the altar of private sector growth. Trump believes only in his messianic vision of himself and whatever sycophants tell him, which is maybe why Larry has started to adopt some of the lingua insane Franca of his colleagues...
I'm not a China hand or China expert, but I'm getting up to speed rapidly, talking to people in business. You open a company on a joint venture basis in a Chinese province, okay, and because you only own 49%, they own 51% or more, the local party leaders -- you know, these are like mafioso Dons, I'm told. You have to go and lay your entire blueprint on the table, including the technology, and they will have their experts open it right up.
Sound familiar? That's likely because Kuddley was doing his best Peter "Crazy" Navarro impression, one that has worked with POTUS but spooked the shit out of the markets. Perhaps that's why Navarro was the third dwarf to be sent on CNBC in the last two days, where he played his hits:
Peter Navarro, one of President Donald Trump's top trade advisors, said Thursday that China is in a "zero-sum game" with the rest of the world when it comes to trade.
And in case Navarro hadn't done enough to assuage market fears that the White House trade policy is being run by a belligerent loon dabbling in light economic xenophobia...
"We have to defend ourselves," Navarro said, citing alleged Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property on technology. "They're attacking our crown jewels. They make no bones about it."
And you people were afraid of a trade war? Well, some of you are also the ones desperate and dumb enough to let "The Navarro Bounce" turn into an actual thing, a notional equivalent to a run up in metals futures after a toothless hobo covered in feces got in front a news camera and yelled "BUY GOLD!"
But we digress...kind of like the third magical economy dwarf that the administration offered up to CNBC to be belligerently flirted at by living negative Irish stereotype Joe Kernen, Commerce Secretary and sometimes-conscious-human Wilbur "Sleepy" Ross.
The most unsubtly corrupt member of Trump's economic team took a huge risk of sitting on a high stool during his tete-a-tete with Kernen and stayed awake long enough to do a comparatively decent job ratcheting down talk of trade wars...insofar as he admitted we were in a few but that they'd be over soon-ish.
Referring to his teen years, Ross told Kernen that "We've been in a trade war since the end of World War II." But he was also clear that we'd win at least of the ones we're currently in before the end of the year, meaning that he might be able to celebrate before the metric shit-ton of ethic violations coming his way bury him alive. Ross was clear that things were going according to plan, despite it being so obvious that there is no plan.
The combined performance of these three top White House advisers would have been enough to cause a full-blown panic under previous administrations. But logic is dead, so the idea that Trump's two key trade advisors can only rattle sabres doesn't even seem to do much to a market that claims to be afraid of trade wars. And it says even more that the only person who fully grasped the point of his appearance is a man with the telegenic charisma of Ambien.
Overall, it's been another tour de force from a White House press shop that could have saved time and effort by just sending Steve Mnuchin onto the White House lawn to do that freaky thing with his mouth and tell Kernen that "We meant to say that there isn't not not a trade war that we can't not win."