A New Zealand businessman is said to be the frontrunner to replace Gary Cohn as Donald Trump’s top economic adviser. According to the New York Times, the President is “strongly considering” Christopher P. Liddell, who works as an assistant to Trump and director of strategic initiatives, for Gary Cohn’s now vacant job.
According to the NYT’s two sources, while Trump has not yet made a firm decision, Liddell was the “front-runner” to become the White House’s top economist.
Some background: Liddell rose up the ranks to become chief executive of New Zealand company Carter Holt Harvey in the 1990s, before he relocated to the United States. In 2005 he was appointed chief financial officer of Microsoft, then shifted to General Motors where he helped the company recover after the global financial crisis.
At the start of this year he was named Trump’s White House director of strategic initiatives – a job placing the New Zealander at the head of a group dubbed “the White House think tank”.
Liddell had joined Trump’s administration in early 2017 and had worked closely with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, since his appointment. His role included assessing the way the Government bought technology, and the services it offered people online. With a lineup of high-powered jobs within big global corporates, Liddell had the sort of experience that would fulfil Trump’s hopes for someone to fill the role, insiders have said.
In a television interview late last year, Liddell said he expected people would see a more moderate Donald Trump presidency “than the one seen on the campaign trail.”
“People focus on the President, as they should, because the President’s the single most important person,” he had told TVNZ.
“But the President works through these huge numbers of other people running various departments and so forth, so who he starts to surround himself, how he manages those people, will define his success.”
The NYT’s report suggests that Gary Cohn’s own wishes may be ignored: as noted yesterday, the former Goldman COO’s had picked Shahira Knight — a former Hill staffer, ex-lobbyist and the NEC’s resident tax expert — as his replacement as National Economic Council director. However, as the NYT adds, Knight, who prefers a lower profile, was uninterested in the opportunity.