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Analysis

Trump eyes open Federal Reserve seats as a chance to burrow loyalists into positions of power

Herman Cain and Stephen Moore are the two names floated for the slots.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Former presidential candidate and Godfather’s Pizza mogul Herman Cain is the preferred choice of President Donald Trump to fill one of two vacant positions on the seven-member Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Cain has been floated alongside Stephen Moore, the frequent Fox News guest and a veteran of almost every major right-wing think tank in Washington, D.C., as the potential new members of the central bank’s governing body.

Cain’s trial balloons may prompt some snickering. Last seen smirking creepily in campaign advertisements for his quixotic, half-serious bid for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, Cain has long cut a comic figure in national political circles. Whatever real cachet he had with a sliver of the party’s base some years ago has aged queasily, though the same type of sexual misconduct scandals that seemed to have closed the book on Cain’s public career eight years ago are apparently no longer deal breakers for the party Trump leads.

Oddly enough, however, it’s the pizza guy who may have the stronger claim to legitimacy where the Federal Reserve is concerned — this despite the fact that Moore’s public image might seem more in tune with the byzantine wonkery of the nation’s central bank. If either of these names should make you laugh up your sleeve, it isn’t Cain’s.

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One reason why is that Cain has some direct experience with how Federal Reserve policymaking actually works, having served on an advisory board to the Kansas City branch of the central bank for a few years in the 1990s. His title at the time lends itself to misinterpretation and an exaggerated sense of his true involvement in the FRBKC’s activities. Cain didn’t have any decision-making power over policy at the Kansas City bank. He served on and later headed a nine-member board of private industry executives who provide feedback to the actual string pullers. (In a 2011 recounting of his activities as chair, Slate’s Dave Weigel characterized Cain’s tenure like so: “What did Herman Cain do at the Fed, and what does it tell us about him? The answers: ‘Not much,’ and ‘a little more than not much.’”)

A position on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors would be a dramatic come-up from the work Cain did during the 1990s. Instead of leading meetings of private sector advisers a couple times every month, he’d be casting a vote on Fed policy, directly shaping such matters as employment and interest rates.

But that’s a mere frog hop in responsibility compared to the dizzying leap Moore would have to make in order to join the Fed. He has no real understanding of how the organization functions, by his own admission.

Moore essentially owes his success in life to Washington’s entrenched conservative think tank ecosystem, which has made great use of his all-seizing capacity to identify what’s helpful to anti-government conservatives in any given news cycle and then find a media outlet in which to say it.

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When a Democrat occupied the White House and Republicans found it politically advantageous to undermine his economic performance, Moore dutifully told the public that the Fed was letting inflation get out of control by pursuing policies that helped nurse a weak recovery along. Once the White House changed hands, Moore flipped the script.

Moore’s only true compass is a deep desire to shrink government. He thinks wealthy people shouldn’t have to pay as much as they do in tax, and that government shouldn’t try so hard to do things for people. He’s an ideologue, not a scholar, prescribing the same medicine no matter the economic ailment. His persistence and shamelessness, valuable attributes for his typical work, are dangerous ones for a job that will involve reading the short- and long-term landscape and adjusting economic levers to maximize stability and prosperity.

While the White House vets its candidates, the president is reportedly fuming that the man he picked to chair the Fed, Jerome Powell, has proven to be a bad hire — not because he’s ill-prepared for the tasks of the job, but rather because he won’t play along with Trump’s desire to put the Fed at the service of his own electoral needs.

“Trump tells aides that Powell is the biggest threat to the economy due to his 2018 decisions to raise interest rates,” Axios reports, and “considers Powell to be ‘weak’” for taking decisions that diverge from Trump’s need for the top-line numbers on economic growth to remain shiny throughout his reelection bid.

Together, the Cain and Moore rumors are a fresh reminder that Trump approaches job interviews with only one real care in mind: Will they be personally loyal to my individual needs? That these men will have a hand in steering the economy through whatever headwinds might threaten the prosperity of the American people is a secondary concern at best.