Why Stephen Moore’s Fed Bid Failed

Trump’s choice for the Federal Reserve has a long track record of statements—on the economy, gender, and race—that left him with few supporters in the Senate.

Stephen Moore
CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore

Updated at 1:25 p.m. ET on May 2, 2019.

Thursday morning, despite an increasing chorus of skeptics among Senate Republicans, Stephen Moore insisted that he was still on the verge of being formally nominated to the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors.

“I’m all in,” he told Bloomberg reporters.

The White House, however, was not. Within a couple of hours, President Donald Trump had pulled the plug. “Steve Moore, a great pro-growth economist and a truly fine person, has decided to withdraw from the Fed process,” he tweeted. “I’ve asked Steve to work with me toward future economic growth in our Country.”

Moore follows Herman Cain, whom Trump said he would nominate to the Fed but who withdrew after extensive criticism, especially over past accusations of sexual harassment. In Moore’s case, the crucial flaws were a long record of economic illiteracy and offensive remarks, especially about women.

Moore’s abortive nomination was at once inexplicable and utterly predictable. How did a candidate with few qualifications and a damaging paper trail get nominated for an important position in the Trump administration? Presumably the same way all the other previous candidates with few qualifications or a damaging paper trail did: They were on TV a lot, they had nice things to say about the president, and that was good enough for him. More than two years into his presidency, and despite a long record of failed or aborted nominations, Trump remains remarkably uninterested in vetting the people he wants to put in top posts.

If you’ve paid attention to conservative media over the past couple of decades, Moore has been a familiar figure, as a persistent if not especially heavyweight proponent of supply-side economics. Moore advised Cain on his infamous “9-9-9” tax plan during his 2012 presidential run, then advised Trump in 2016. He consulted on Trump’s 2017 tax cuts and co-wrote a book called Trumponomics.

Moore was a peculiar pick for the Fed in part because his expertise, such as it is, is fiscal policy. Moore is ignorant of monetary policy, which is what the Fed oversees. That’s not my assessment—it’s Moore’s. When Trump announced his plan to nominate Moore, the would-be governor told Bloomberg that he didn’t know what the central bank or its board did.

“I’m kind of new to this game, frankly, so I’m going to be on a steep learning curve myself about how the Fed operates, how the Federal Reserve makes its decisions,” he said. “It’s hard for me to say even what my role will be there, assuming I get confirmed.”

His record backs this up. As the Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell has noted, Moore claimed that there was deflation when there wasn’t, and insisted that the nation was on the verge of hyperinflation when in fact there was deflation. Moore has supported the gold standard (though he insists that he hasn’t, despite video evidence). Matt O’Brien rounds up other problems with Moore’s economic positions. Moore also called on Trump to fire Fed Chair Jerome Powell, which would have, at the very least, made for some awkward small talk at Moore’s first meeting.

Somewhat perversely, Moore’s views and comments on other topics are what finished his chances. His economic views are more relevant to the job he would have actually held, but whereas most people don’t have a sophisticated understanding of interest rates, most people either are or know a woman—and Moore has some peculiar views about women, both related and unrelated to the economy.

CNN’s KFile has been at the forefront of uncovering Moore’s past comments. Basketball has been a frequent trigger for these views. Referring to his wife in a 2001 column, Moore wrote, “When Allison and I got married the hoops ground rules were already well established: She’s not allowed to talk to me during the NCAA tournament.”

The next year, he recycled the idea: “Ah, March, the greatest month of the year. This is the season where I return to bachelorhood, lock myself into the TV room and tell my wife that I’ll see her sometime in April. Oh, and by the way, keep those three crying kids out of my hair for the next three weeks.”

Moore complained about women refereeing games, with a reference to the notoriously violent and abusive Indiana University coach Bob Knight:

How outrageous is this? This year they allowed a woman ref a men’s NCAA game. Liberals celebrate this breakthrough as a triumph for gender equity. The NCAA has been touting this as example of how progressive they are. I see it as an obscenity. Is there no area in life where men can take vacation from women? What’s next? Women invited to bachelor parties? Women in combat? (Oh yeah, they’ve done that already.) Why can’t women ref the women’s games and men the men’s games.

I can’t wait to see the first lady ref have a run in with Bobby Knight.

He did offer one exception to his suggestion of banning women from sports, citing a prominent broadcaster:

Women are permitted to participate, if and only if, they look like Bonnie Bernstein. The fact that Bonnie knows nothing about basketball is entirely irrelevant … Bonnie Bernstein should wear a halter top.

In an email to CNN, Moore explained these columns by saying, “This was a spoof. I have a sense of humor.” To his credit, he didn’t say it was a good sense of humor.

In another column, Moore wrote in the third person about “Steve” buying a cherry-red Camaro convertible, despite his “22-year-old college intern” telling him that the car “screams midlife crisis.” Moore then told a very real anecdote that absolutely happened:

On more than one occasion Steve has been cruising around town with the top down and a gorgeous 20-something blond has pulled up beside him: he looks longingly at her, she gives him a “come hither look,” and then the mood is spoiled when she sees David drooling in the baby seat and then Justin and Will start making weird faces at her. She sticks her finger in her mouth and zooms off and Steve is left screaming at the kids: “How many times do I have to tell you tyrants to stay out of sight when I’m hitting on girls?” And then Will, with a puzzled look on his face says, “But daddy, we already have a mommy.” And then Steve says, “Yes, but imagine, just for a moment, how nice it would be if you had a much younger mommy.”

In the same column, he wrote, “Will someone out there please help us get Allison a job? It’s not so much that we need her income, but that when she sits at home idly day after day she becomes a compulsive shopper.”

Moore’s wife filed for divorce in 2010, claiming that he had committed adultery and subjected her to “emotional and psychological abuse.” She later sued him to collect on tens of thousands of dollars in alimony and child support that he owed her.

Appearing on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Moore apologized for some of his past remarks. “But I do think we should get back to the issue of whether I’m qualified to be on the Federal Reserve Board, whether I have the, you know, economic expertise,” he said. “I’ll debate anybody on economics … Let’s make this about the economy.”

But many of Moore’s views about women have directly connected to economics. Complaining about his then-wife’s votes for Democrats in the 2000 election, he griped, “Women are sooo malleable! No wonder there’s a gender gap.”

For Moore, however, the gender gap in pay is a feature, not a bug. In 2000, he said on C-SPAN, “It’s not a good thing that black women are making more than black men today. In fact, you know, the male needs to be the breadwinner of the family.” In 2014, he waxed concerned about rising women’s wages. “What are the implications of a society in which women earn more than men?” Moore wrote. “We don’t really know, but it could be disruptive to family stability. If men aren’t the breadwinners, will women regard them as economically expendable?”

He reiterated the point on Tuesday. “Look, I want everybody’s wages to rise, of course. But, you know, people are talking about women’s earnings—they’ve risen,” he said on CNBC. “The problem, actually, has been the steady decline in male earnings, and I think we should pay attention to that, because I think that has very negative consequences for the economy and for society.”

While Moore feared women’s wages rising too high, he was eager to put a different segment of the population to work: children. “I’m a radical on this,” he said in 2000. “I’d get rid of a lot of these child-labor laws. I want people starting to work at 11, 12.”

In addition to his complaints about black women’s wages rising too high, Moore has made other dubious comments on race. In 2017, on CNN, he delivered a twin bill of bad Civil War history, claiming that “Robert E. Lee hated slavery” (untrue) and that “the Civil War was about the South having its own rights” (true only insofar as the right that Confederate states were concerned about was the right to own slaves).

After Trump’s victory in November 2016, Moore joked (apparently quoting a cartoon) that the president-elect’s first act would be to kick a black family (i.e., the Obamas) out of public housing. His attempt to explain that joke to Margaret Hoover is recommended only to those with a high tolerance for cringing.

Faced with the avalanche of embarrassing past quotes, Moore compared the media coverage to efforts to sink the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“They’re pulling a Kavanaugh against me,” he said.

The claim is absurd. Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by several women and denied it. But neither Moore nor anyone else disputes that he wrote and said the things that he’s being criticized for writing and saying. The idea that reading the things Moore published represents a conspiracy may say a lot about the publications for which Moore wrote, but it doesn’t make for a very effective defense.

Indeed, while Senate Republicans rallied to Kavanaugh’s defense, they were chilly on Moore. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa said it was “very unlikely that I would support that person,” adding, “Look at his writings! I’m not enthused. I’m a woman.”

Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota offered an ominous forecast to The Washington Post on Wednesday. “I think there will be probably some more information about that nomination in the next day or so,” Thune said. “I think he’s gotten enough feedback from the people up here that his nomination is in trouble.”

Thune, it turned out, had a better sense of what was coming than Moore did. In general, GOP senators have been most successful at killing controversial nominations they don’t like by stifling them early in the process. Once Trump actually makes a nomination, senators are loath to vote against an appointee.

The White House said Monday that it was reviewing Moore’s writings. Conducting such a review before the president announced plans to nominate Moore would have been wise. But the Trump administration has repeatedly declined to vet candidates ahead of time.

Yet despite the back-to-back failures of Cain and Moore, it seems likely that the pattern will repeat again. Trump announced his intent to nominate both men but then went weeks without a formal nomination, which suggests that the president is getting out ahead of the official process. Trump will continue to see people on TV whose feisty demeanor and staunch defenses of his leadership he likes, and he’ll keep nominating them for jobs—no matter how unqualified they are, or how much of a liability their past statements make them. It’s certainly easier and more fun than plodding through years of Stephen Moore’s “humor” columns.