- - Wednesday, March 14, 2018

President Trump asked a conservative gathering the other day whether, “after my first year in office, can anyone doubt that I am a conservative?” It was a plaintive cry from a wounded ego (if not a wounded heart).

On several crucial points, like the selection of a Supreme Court justice, tax cuts and rebuilding a military diminished by Democratic neglect, the president is conservative enough. He scored more conservative and free-market points Tuesday with the selection of Larry Kudlow as the new chairman of the National Economic Council, effectively making him the nation’s official chief economist.

Mr. Kudlow served well in the Reagan White House, working on the Gipper’s budgets and the Economic Recovery and Tax Act that rebuilt the American economy. The lasting effects of it inspired the Trump tax cut. Mr. Kudlow became an economist on Wall Street and then the host of an economics panel on CNBC-TV. He was a senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign and an effective salesman for the Trump tax cut. Every Republican senator voted for it.

The economy is just now beginning to soar, as the latest jobs news, 350,000 new jobs (including upward revisions) and a record 155 million Americans employed, conclusively confirms. The Trump deregulation agenda has pulled the government monkey off the back of business, and now some critics are complaining of an “overheating economy.” That kind of criticism is nice to have.

The administration sometimes fails to effectively relate this good news to the lives of average Americans. Any president presiding over a booming economy and close to the lowest unemployment rate in a half-century should have an approval rating well above 50 percent. The dominant media screen of negativity is hard to break through.

Mr. Kudlow has a gift for explaining how jobs, the economy and the stock market work in ways that keep eyes from glazing over. There’s a reason why economics is called “the dismal science.” Mr. Kudlow is fond of reminding everyone that “if you tax something, you get less of it. If you tax something less, you get more of it.” The dismal science becomes not so dismal.

Now, as the White House salesman for the president’s mostly sound economic ideas, he must steer the president away from his darker instincts on tariffs and trade protectionism. Mr. Trump said last week he likes a spirited debate among his advisers on the issues of the day, and Mr. Kudlow must put that boast to the test.

The president has a full table of unfinished business. He wants a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, one that relies on private finances to pay the cost. He must reform welfare and education. He has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix the American immigration system so that it attracts maximum talents, skills and benefits to America, while deterring immigrants trying to sneak in ahead of prospective immigrants obeying the rules.

To get that agenda enacted, the new White House economist in chief must persuade Congress, the business community and, above all, the American voters that the American creed is as true today as ever: “the best path to prosperity is free market capitalism.”

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