Kiwi Chris Liddell passed over as Larry Kudlow named Trump's top economic adviser

Trump called the Kiwi businessman a genius, but he was up against a long-time friend.

UPDATE / Mar 15: Economist, CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow has been named Donald Trump's top economic adviser.

The president made the announcement in a tweet this morning NZT.

The White House had confirmed two candidates: Mr Kudlow and New Zealander Chris Liddell.

Mr Trump labelled the New Zealander a "genius," but Mr Kudlow perhaps had the advantage of being a longtime friend of the president.

Mr Kudlow also flip-flopped on trade-tariffs during the selection process, coming around to the Trump World View on protectionism — making him more of a chief agreer than chief adviser, perhaps.

Kiwi Chris Liddell now has competition to become Trump's next top economic adviser
UPDATE / Mar 14: 
Kiwi Chris Liddell no longer seems a shoo-in to become Donald Trump's next top economic adviser.

Conservative commentator Larry Kudlow (70) has emerged as the new favourite, according to Reuters.

The White House has officially confirmed Mr Liddell is a candidate, but Mr Kudlow -- a long-time Trump supporter, seems to have the inside running.

“I think Larry has a very good chance,” Trump told reporters.

The president says Mr Kudlow originally disagreed with his steel and aluminium tariffs but has "come around" to seeing them as a useful negotiating tool.

Mr Kudlow was an economic advisor to the Reagan administration before a stint on Wall Street with Bear Stearns. The economist is now best known as a conservative voice on cable TV.

NBR Rich Lister Chris Liddell tipped to become Trump's top economic adviser
EARLIER / Mar 11: New Zealand businessman Chris Liddell (59) is the frontrunner to become Donald Trump's top economic adviser, says The New York Times.

The Kiwi is tipped to replace ex-Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn as the head of the director of the US president's National Economic Council.

During a January 30 White House event (pictured below), Mr Trump called Cohn and Liddell "geniuses," according to a Bloomberg Business account.

However, Mr Cohn subsequently took a dive in the president's estimation as he opposed tariffs on steel and aluminium and, according to Bloomberg, refused a request to stand behind Mr Trump during the signing ceremony for the tariffs (which took place Friday NZ time). Mr Cohn announced his departure on Tuesday NZT. 

Mr Cohn had a degree of support within Mr Trump's party. A group of 107 Republicans in Congress sent the president a letter in an unsuccessful bid to head off the tariffs. (Republicans in the Senate are still considering legislation to block the tariffs.)

Trump White House watchers will now be looking to see if Mr Liddell will pick up and run with the president's protectionist, populist agenda, or try to gently nudge him toward a more orthodox Republican view.

The expatriate has made few public comments since joining the Trump White House as director of strategic initiatives as the new president took office, and kept any views on Trumponomics to himself.

However, his political history indicates that Mr Liddell is like to be a free-trader and free-marketeer at heart, who may now try to change the Trump system from within. In the 1980s for example, Mr Liddell supported Bob Jones' New Zealand Party, and the broader push to move National away from the interventionist policies of the Muldoon era. And his route to the White House began as an adviser to presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a conventional centre-right Republican.

US President Donald Trump (L) calls White House Director of Strategic Initiatives Chris Liddell (C) and White House Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn 'geniuses' as he arrived for a meeting with small business people in the Roosevelt Room at the White House January 30, 2017 in Washington, DC (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Mr Trump's steel and aluminium tariffs have had a mixed reaction. They have driven up shares in domestic steel producers but beaten down the stock of car makers Ford and GM, and the market as a whole, on fears of retaliatory moves by the EU, China and others.

Trade expert Stephen Jacobi fears the tariffs could spark a trade war, which in turn would degrade the power of the World Trade Organisation. Smaller trading nations like New Zealand rely on the WTO and its rules-based approach, he says. (See more of Mr Jacobi's analysis in the clip below.)

Related video (March 7).

Road to the White House
Born in Matamata, Mount Albert Grammar old boy Mr Liddell has an honours degree in engineering from Auckland University and a masters of philosophy from Oxford. Initially an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston, Mr  Liddell eventually became joint chief executive before he moved to Carter Holt Harvey in the mid-1990s as chief financial officer and then chief executive.

A shift to the US in 2003 as the chief financial officer of International Paper led to Liddell’s big career break when he became Microsoft’s chief financial officer with a reported base salary in 2008 of $US561,667 supplemented by a cash bonus of $US595,000 and share options worth between $US2-3 million. 

When he quit Microsoft in November 2009, Liddell had to sign a resignation agreement that stipulated he didn’t “make any disparaging remarks about Microsoft, its officers or directors.” In return, there was a severance payment of $US1.9 million. Two months later, he became chief financial officer at an ailing General Motors where he steered the business back to health with a $US23 billion IPO before suddenly leaving within 14 months.

A stint as Xero chairman was headed off when Mr Liddell was appointed to the Trump White House. He resigned his position and sold his shares in the online accounting company to comply with ethics and conflict-of-interest guidelines.

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