As the public-health and economic emergency resulting from the coronavirus’ spread in the United States has grown increasingly dire, several of President Donald Trump’s close friends, informal advisers, and media allies have rushed to get their own ideas for a rescue plan in front of him.
Some have furiously tried to get Trump’s attention via Twitter, or get their messages through to him via the political press. Others have attempted to send their materials straight to the president’s desk.
Among those beseeching Trump and the White House is Steve Cortes, formerly a paid CNN contributor and now a senior adviser and spokesman for America First Action, a Trump-boosting super PAC. The president and Cortes are close enough that Trump took the time to become personally invested in the unclear status of Cortes’s TV career last year, when CNN had effectively benched their pro-Trump commentator from appearing on-air in the U.S.
This past weekend, Cortes passed along his “make no little plans” memo on economic stimulus to senior White House staff, with officials telling him it would be given to Trump to read, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. Cortes subsequently published online an article version of his three-point memo this week, arguing that Trump should champion an “Income Tax Suspension for Middle/Lower Brackets,” “Double Unemployment Insurance Payments,” and “Suspend Student Loan Payments” in response to the potentially economy-collapsing pandemic.
“As ardently as I believe in capitalism and free markets, we have an economy to serve a citizenry, not the other way around. In times of global tumult like this present crisis, only the American government can take the kind of decisive action to literally save our economic way of life,” the conservative commentator writes.
Cortes is just one of several MAGA devotees to attempt to shape the direction of Trump’s efforts to blunt economic suffering, as negotiations on Capitol Hill and intra-administration policy disputes barrel into the next round.
Eric Bolling, a Sinclair anchor and friend of the Trump family, is aggressively pitching his own “Plan2020” to the president and West Wing staffers, tweeting on Wednesday, “The market is going to get crushed again today. On the heels of the [Steve] Mnuchin plan. The Bolling Plan is ready for the @realDonaldTrump [economic] advisors when they finally admit theirs isn’t working. Mine WILL.”
Bolling later tweeted, “the White House called. My plan will be presented to @realDonaldTrump [Wednesday] afternoon. This is great news.” By Thursday, he wrote on Twitter, somewhat forebodingly, “‘Plan2020’ addresses the consumer not big business nor Wall St. I trust Plan2020 was presented [to] @realDonaldTrump as promised. I’m naming names if not.”
On Thursday afternoon, the Sinclair host and former Fox News personality and financial analyst said in a brief interview that he had not heard from Trump yet, adding, “I’ve been a friend of the president for a long time, and I have more experience in ‘Black Swan’ events like this than most people anywhere, so it makes sense they would vet my plan. It’s beyond partisan bias to suggest the administration should not hear my plan simply because I don’t work inside the West Wing.”
By close of business Thursday, Bolling had already posted screenshots of his plan for his Twitter followers—the president and several top Trump officials among them—to peruse.
That TV regulars are pitching the president on plans to save the U.S. economy is owed to the fact that they know he will listen. While past president’s leaned heavily on economists and academics during moments of economic crisis, Trump takes very seriously the policy prescriptions discussed on cable news and pushed by those who fill its airwaves. It was, after all, Fox News star Tucker Carlson who traveled to Trump’s private Florida club Mar-a-Lago this month to try to personally convince the president to quit being so dismissive of the coronavirus’ deadly spread.
On Capitol Hill, individual lawmakers are also working to get Trump’s attention in the ongoing policy debates. Politico reported Thursday that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—who often privately counsels the president on matters of foreign and domestic policy—told colleagues during a Senate Republican lunch that he and newly minted White House chief of staff Mark Meadows are attempting to lobby Trump to reverse his support for direct payments to individuals in a coronavirus-related stimulus package. Right-leaning economists and “Trumponomics” pushers are also trying to sway the president at this critical juncture, warning Trump not to indulge in what they deride as too much economic stimulus.
On Tuesday, Stephen Moore, Art Laffer, and Steve Forbes—all longtime luminaries in conservative economics and think tankery—released a joint statement urging the Trump administration not to “expand welfare and other income redistribution benefits like paid leave and unemployment benefits that will inhibit growth and discourage work.”
Moore, a Heritage Foundation fellow who informally advises President Trump and administration officials, said that the authors of the document had sent “key people in the White House” an advance copy of Tuesday’s statement. He also claimed, “I know they liked it. It was something that people [in the Trump administration] paid attention to, I was told.”
Sure enough, a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday that Moore, Laffer, and Forbes would receive similar treatment that other allies of the president have been promised: their joint statement, this official said, had been printed and flagged for inclusion in Trump’s daily batches of reading material and media clips.
In the case of responding to the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus outbreak, it’s unclear how seriously the president or aides who oversee the paperflow to his desk are taking these different proposals. But the rush of outside plans to his desk underscores the mad dash among Trump counselors, within and outside of the federal government, to influence the frequently shambolic crisis management with their own policy preferences, or pet ideas, even.
Among those efforts, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro’s “Buy American” crusade has stood out. Earlier this week, The Daily Beast obtained a copy of Navarro’s Trump-approved draft executive-order, which lays out a list of U.S. policies that would force government agencies to limit the foreign flow of medical supplies in order to help create an environment to ramp up domestic production.
Navarro has long pushed for President Trump to implement protocols that would help domestic manufacturing production across various industrial sectors. The new executive order, however, has senior Trump administration worried. Several who spoke to The Daily Beast said they have aggressively pushed back against the new order, claiming it would further disrupt the flow of essential medical supplies to hospitals and care facilities treating coronavirus patients.
Two officials intimately involved in the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak said they are increasingly concerned that coronavirus task-force meetings are being turned into a forum for Trump’s advisers to pitch their “pet projects.”
“These meetings are supposed to be about COVID,” one official said. “But they aren’t all about the virus and how we should be responding.”
One official said that in a meeting last week, Navarro pitched his “Buy American” executive order to a team of officials working on the medical supply issue: “It was clear that what he was talking about didn’t have to do with the coronavirus. It was about a much broader philosophy and policy and the COVID outbreak was a vessel.”