Capitalist

From Trump Economist to Partners With Obama's Pal

Stephen Moore made his name as a staunchly conservative economist, but in the age of Trump he’s putting his principles up for sale.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

A renowned free market economist is cashing in on his Trump connections, advising private investors on how to maximize financial gain from White House policies in his new role at a firm pushing proposals that clash with some of his long-held conservative policy views.

Political intelligence consultancy 32 Advisors announced this month that it has hired Stephen Moore as a strategic partner in its economic advisory practice. Since then, Moore has begun meeting with banking and hedge fund executives to help them navigate the halls of power in the Trump era.

Both Moore and 32 Advisors are up-front about the value he provides. For a firm with deep ties to national Democrats—and whose executives were banking on a Hillary Clinton win in November—Moore’s past role as a Trump campaign adviser, his direct input on the president’s campaign platform, his frequent cable news appearances, and his continued role at policy groups with the president’s ear provide marketable insight into the current administration.

It will also put him in the employ of a group that has pushed heavily for policies that Moore himself has opposed. 32 Advisors operates an infrastructure practice parallel to the economic advisory services that Moore will provide. He has dubbed Trump’s plan to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure improvements, a plan in line with 32 Advisors’ infrastructure consultancy, a “waste of money.”

Moore helped craft an early draft of a Trump tax proposal now informing the administration’s plans to overhaul the nation’s tax code.

“I’ve worked with his people like [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin and [White House adviser] Steve Miller and the whole gang, so I have a good sense of how they might approach these legislative and executive orders, how Trump might proceed on trade negotiations, et cetera,” Moore said in an interview.

Robert Wolf, 32 Advisors’ founder and chief executive, bragged in an interview that he was President Barack Obama’s “closest outside economic advisor. I think I’m the only one with three different appointments under him.” But that track record might not ingratiate him with the current administration. Moore will look to fill that gap.

For Wolf, a former UBS banker, Moore’s hiring is an opportunity to exploit policy opportunities despite his and 32 Advisors’ historically Democratic allegiances. The Trump administration appears to be pursuing policies in line with the firm’s goals, but Wolf had focused during the presidential campaign on ingratiating himself with Trump’s opponent.

“The reason we brought Steve on was it was very clear that our clients want to hear a different perspective than what people have been hearing the last eight years with the Trump administration now active,” Wolf said.

While that is fairly standard for firms involved in Washington’s influence economy, Moore himself has criticized a D.C. culture that values political access above market viability.

“These days in Washington, the only good capitalism is crony capitalism—where businesses live off taxpayers, not customers,” he complained in a 2014 column.

That position, and Moore’s general distaste for government interventions in the economy, are reflected in his sterling conservative credentials. He is a former Wall Street Journal editorial board member. He co-founded the conservative Club for Growth, a group that ran seven-figure ad campaigns attacking Trump’s presidential candidacy over his perceived deviations from free market orthodoxy. Moore is currently a senior economics contributor for the Tea Party group FreedomWorks and a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, the flagship conservative think tank that has advised Trump’s team directly.

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His resume is a stark contrast to 32 Advisors’ current leadership. Wolf raised six-figure sums for President Barack Obama’s campaigns, advised his administration on economic policy, and frequently joined Obama on the golf course. Moore’s colleague at the firm’s economic advisory practice, Austan Goolsbee, led Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Moore and Wolf became friends after a number of joint Fox News appearances. “I would take the conservative position and he would take the more liberal position and we became good friends off the air,” Moore remembers. He was angling for a position in the Trump White House at the time.

When he wasn’t offered the post he wanted, Wolf offered him a job instead. “We’ve respectfully disagreed often on various panels on TV, but we’ve gotten along very well,” Wolf said. “So once the election was completed I reached out to Steve.”

Hacked emails from former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta show Wolf was seeking an advisory role with the campaign. He eventually met with Clinton personally and served as a surrogate for the campaign, placing friendly quotes and soundbites on her economic platform in national media.

Wolf’s emphasis on infrastructure came as 32 Advisors ramped up a new practice focused explicitly on that policy area. It unveiled its new infrastructure practice in April 2015. “32 Advisors was built to address the challenges encountered where the public and private sector intersect,” the firm said in a press release announcing the expansion.

It brought on infrastructure expert Michael Likosky to lead the new practice. The announcement came four days after Clinton officially kicked off her candidacy, and Likosky brought connections to the former secretary of state’s family foundation: He had advised CGI on its infrastructure policy positions, and billed himself as “an Expert to the Clinton Initiative” on infrastructure issues.

Likosky and Wolf were particularly enthusiastic about public-private partnerships as a means of financing and carrying out large infrastructure projects, and in that respect they see promise in the Trump administration. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao backed the model during her confirmation hearings.

But for years Moore has opposed large federal infrastructure spending projects in the past. “If our infrastructure is crumbling, it surely isn’t because the federal government is spending too little money,” Moore wrote in a column last year. He panned infrastructure spending proposals from Clinton and Trump, and quipped, “The road builders, unions, municipal bond traders are drooling at the idea of all this money.”

Moore said he would not be working directly for 32 Advisors’ infrastructure practice, but defended the pursuit of policy objectives outside of his past ideological commitments.

“I’m an ideological free market conservative, but I also understand that politics is the art of the possible,” he said. “You have to make compromises to get things done. You want to get as big a part of the loaf as you can, but if you have to for example give the Democrats infrastructure spending or something like that, that’s the art of the political system of compromise and give and take. I don’t have a problem with that.”

As the administration weighs a tax overhaul, trade restrictions, infrastructure spending, and other high-profile economic policies, Moore will be advising “Wall Street banks, hedge fund managers, investors,” in his description, on what to expect from the new administration. He and Goolsbee will be holding a series of conference calls—about 30 per year “on topics that range from macroeconomics to geopolitics to public policy from domestic to international,” Wolf said—to update 32 Advisors clients on the state of major financial policy initiatives.

“I have a special knowledge of these things. It’s something I really enjoy, meeting these people,” Moore said.

Plus, he added, “it’s a good way to make some extra money.”