When Donald Trump unveiled his council of economic advisors earlier this month, observers were quick to note some of the team’s unorthodox attributes: all of its 13 members are men, six are named Steve and only one has an advanced degree in economics.
But it turns out the council’s lone Ph.D. economist ― Peter Navarro, professor of economics and public policy at UC Irvine ― has never actually met or spoken to the Republican presidential nominee.
Navarro shared this fact in a recent interview with the Orange County Register:
Navarro has never met Trump in person. And as for speaking with him by phone, he acknowledges, “I have never had the pleasure.”
The economist was in Cleveland for the GOP convention, but busy doing media interviews from dawn until midnight, he said.
“I am not the kind of person who needs to kiss the ring,” Navarro said. “I have great respect for him and I have worked with his team.”
Asked about Navarro’s campaign role, Stephen Miller, a Trump senior policy adviser, emailed, “He is one of the top trade experts in the world. Navarro is a champion for the American worker.”
Though Navarro hasn’t personally advised Trump, there’s no question that their views on trade dovetail. Both decry economic globalization and trade deals like NAFTA as disasters for the United States. (On this point they are opposed by the overwhelming majority of professional economists, who believe that Trump’s antagonism toward trade would not only hurt America’s economy but also devastate the world’s poorest people.)
But Trump’s lack of contact with the only economist on his economic team is primarily evidence of his seeming disinterest in policy.
On Saturday, citing 20 Republicans who are close with Trump or in contact with his campaign, The New York Times reported that “on matters of policy ... Trump has engaged only fleetingly, and idiosyncratically.”
“Before delivering a policy speech in Detroit on Monday,” the Times reported, “he delegated the formation of an economic plan to a few conservative economists outside his campaign, who consulted him from time to time and ultimately haggled over the details in his office as he followed their conversation.”
The next day, the Wall Street Journal editorial page alleged that even Trump’s closest advisers and family members couldn’t persuade him to focus on policy details.
“They’d like him to spend a little time each day ― a half hour even ― studying the issues he’ll need to understand if he becomes President,” the editors wrote. “Is that so hard? Apparently so. Mr. Trump prefers to watch the cable shows rather than read a briefing paper.”
The Trump campaign did not return a request for comment.