WASHINGTON — President Trump loves big personalities, live television, the stock market and loyalty. In choosing Larry Kudlow, a CNBC television commentator, to serve as the next director of the National Economic Council, he has checked all those boxes.
Mr. Kudlow, often clad in a pinstripe suit and colorful tie, is a frequent pundit on the financial news channel where he opines about everything from the economy to the stock market to tax cuts and free trade. He is an unabashed prognosticator who relishes making the kinds of provocative statements that Mr. Trump has turned into an art form. He has lamented “growing government dependency,” touted tax cuts for the wealthy and lavished praise on high-flying corporate executives.
Mr. Kudlow will assume the role of Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser, replacing Gary D. Cohn, who said he would resign after losing a battle over the president’s longstanding desire to impose large tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement that Mr. Kudlow had been offered the job and that the administration would “work to have an orderly transition.”
The decision to pick Mr. Kudlow, a longtime cheerleader of the president, is the latest move by Mr. Trump to surround himself with loyalists in high administrative posts.
On Monday, Mr. Trump ousted Rex W. Tillerson as secretary of state and said he would nominate the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, to take his place. As with the Pompeo announcement, which took Mr. Tillerson and some others in the administration by surprise, Mr. Kudlow’s selection startled some in the West Wing, who were unaware it was happening.
In an interview on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Kudlow said Mr. Trump had called him Tuesday night and offered the job, which he had immediately agreed to take.
“I knew I was the guy because he offered it last night and I accepted,” Mr. Kudlow said.
The White House had not expected to announce his hiring until Thursday or Friday, Mr. Kudlow said, but by Wednesday morning, news of his likely naming was widespread, and then “the deluge came.”
Mr. Kudlow, who has publicly criticized the president’s recently announced tariff plans, said Mr. Trump had a more nuanced view on trade than many people understood.
“He regards himself as a free trader,” Mr. Kudlow said. “He does not like to create obstacles, like tariffs. But he also has to protect the U.S. And he feels that many countries” have engaged in unfair trade practices. Mr. Kudlow cited China as a prominent example, expressing a view that is widely held within the administration. The White House has taken a series of steps to curb China and is expected to announce tariffs on certain Chinese products in the coming weeks.
Mr. Kudlow has long espoused a traditional conservative embrace of free trade, but it remains to be seen how vocally he will push back on the growing ascendance of West Wing advisers who are trade skeptics and have urged Mr. Trump to adopt protectionist measures to protect American industry.
Stock markets, which have been rattled by the White House tariffs, did not react positively to news of Mr. Kudlow’s appointment on Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average was down more than 200 points for most of the afternoon, once news media outlets began reporting Mr. Kudlow was the pick.
Mr. Kudlow is a radio and television commentator and an economics consultant. He was a zealous convert to the supply-side economic policies that swept the Republican Party in the late 1970s. He is a protégé of the supply-side economist Arthur Laffer, with whom Mr. Kudlow worked on Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign. Mr. Kudlow went on to serve in Mr. Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget.
Like many past National Economic Council directors, he is not an academically trained economist — he studied for a master’s degree at Princeton University but did not earn one — but he served as chief economist for Bear Stearns and made a name advising prominent conservative politicians. In the early 1990s, Mr. Kudlow took a leave from the firm to enter treatment for drug and alcohol addiction; his colleagues said he abused cocaine.
Mr. Kudlow has spoken frequently about his addiction and ensuing sobriety in the ensuing years.
He said Thursday that staying clean and sober for nearly 23 years “is the center of my life” and “my No. 1 job.”
Asked whether he thought the substance abuse could prove problematic for him as a White House staff nominee, he said, “We’ll see how that plays out.”
Mr. Kudlow was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Trump’s run for the presidency, advising the neophyte candidate on economic issues and pushing him to go big on cutting taxes. The men agreed on their desire for growth-goosing tax cuts but disagreed on trade, on which Mr. Trump ran as a populist and Mr. Kudlow preached free-market principles.
Mr. Kudlow criticized the president after the emergence of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016. He later re-endorsed him, but Mr. Trump, who nurses grudges, was angry for some time, according to people close to him.
The trade critique carried into Mr. Trump’s tenure in the White House. Like Mr. Cohn, Mr. Kudlow had been publicly critical of Mr. Trump’s push for stiff and sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. He jointly wrote a critical column urging the president to reconsider his plan to impose tariffs. “Trump should also examine the historical record on tariffs,” he and his co-authors wrote, “because they have almost never worked as intended and almost always deliver an unhappy ending.”
Mr. Kudlow said Wednesday that although he had little stomach for blanket tariffs, he was “absolutely delighted” that Mr. Trump had softened his stance since first announcing global tariffs on steel and aluminum. “We talked a lot about that,” Mr. Kudlow said, adding that Mr. Trump “regards tariffs as a negotiating tool. And I think that’s fair.”
Mr. Trump indicated on Tuesday that he saw little disagreement with Mr. Kudlow on the issue of tariffs.
“I want to have a divergent opinion,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “We agree on most. He now has come around to believing in tariffs as also a negotiating point. I’m renegotiating trade deals and without tariffs we wouldn’t do nearly as well. But Larry has been a friend of mine for a long time. He backed me very early in the campaign; I think the earliest; I think he was one of my original backers. He’s a very, very talented man, a good man.”
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Kudlow can navigate the chaos that has surrounded the White House and often clouded its message or if he can convince Mr. Trump to follow his advice. Mr. Kudlow said he plans to try.
“I expect to have a very disciplined process,” he said, one that “provides the best policy advice possible to the president.”
Stephen Moore, a longtime friend of Mr. Kudlow’s and an informal adviser to Mr. Trump, said Mr. Kudlow would help with a pressing challenge: How to convince voters to credit the president, and his policies, for an improving economy. Surveys of businesses and voters show economic confidence is strong, but Mr. Trump’s approval ratings are still hovering around 40 percent.
“The communication of all these triumphs has not been fully communicated,” said Mr. Moore, whom many expect to ultimately go to work with Mr. Kudlow at the N.E.C.
After Republicans pushed a $1.5 trillion cut through Congress late last year, Mr. Kudlow praised it effusively, predicting it would usher in long-term annual growth of 3 percent to 4 percent — a more optimistic assessment than most independent economists have offered — and would help Republicans in this year’s midterm elections.
Gene Sperling, a former N.E.C. director under President Bill Clinton and again under President Barack Obama, said Mr. Kudlow would have a difficult job — and that communicating happy economic news was the least of his tasks.
“The fundamental job of the N.E.C. director is to ensure that the president is getting, in a fair way, the diverse advice of his economic cabinet, and to be the top economic person in the West Wing in advising the president on day by day and long term matters,” Mr. Sperling said. “However good Larry may be on TV, it would be very, very sad if the president looked at this job as fundamentally promoting with the media whatever the president’s political interests are.”
Maggie Haberman and Jim Tankersley reported from Washington, and Kate Kelly from New York.