President Donald Trump nears the end of his first 100 days in office with few legislative successes and questions about how he might deliver on campaign promises. But he’s now getting support, albeit of the lukewarm variety, from an unlikely source: his old frenemy Mark Cuban.
In an exclusive interview with FOX Business, Cuban says he is beginning to warm up a bit to the Trump presidency after bashing the commander-in-chief throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and through much of his nascent presidency.
Why the apparent change of heart? Cuban says he likes some of what he has recently seen from Trump, including the ascendancy in the White House of people like Gary Cohn, who heads the administration’s National Economic Council.
What Cuban likes most about Cohn, the former No. 2 executive at Goldman Sachs and life-long Democrat, is that he’s leading “a Democratic invasion of the White House,” that is moderating Trump, who ran on a populist platform of limiting immigration, opposing trade deals, shunning foreign conflicts and reducing the role of the federal government.
Cohn is part of a coterie of new moderate to liberal advisers, some of whom have supported Democrats in the past, who are consolidating control in the Trump White House in recent weeks. The ascendancy began when Trump’s populist senior adviser, Steve Bannon, lost a brutal internal battle with Jared Kushner, who is both a senior White House aide and Trump’s son-in-law.
Bannon was a key architect of Trump’s successful populist “America First” campaign strategy that is credited as possibly the most important element in gaining Trump his Electoral College victory, particularly in several important Midwestern states where such sentiments run high.
But Kushner, along with Trump’s daughter Ivanka, has been wary of Bannon’s influence with the president, and have blamed him for various missteps that have plagued his young presidency, including the blocked roll-out of Trump’s so-called “travel ban” of people from predominantly Muslim countries, as well as the administration’s failed attempt to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Cuban gives Trump high marks for bringing into his inner circle what he considers moderate Democrats like Cohn, Kushner and his daughter Ivanka Trump.
“By my guess, 50 percent or more of non-military leadership in the White House are, or were recently, Democrats,” Cuban told Fox Business. “It's a good balance.”
The influence of the Cohn-Kushner-Ivanka coalition can be seen in some of Trump’s most recent policies, including the bombing of Syria, which he had opposed in the past, as well as his softening rhetoric on China. Trump had accused the country of currency manipulation and engaging in unfair trade practices. After recently meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump said he no longer believes China manipulates its currency.
Trump has recently taken to criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he had initially sought closer ties with under the influence of Bannon, in order to blunt China’s global influence. Mainstream foreign policy experts have questioned Trump’s move to gain closer ties to the Putin regime, which used military aggression to extend its influence in Eastern Europe, beginning with Ukraine.
Still, Trump may face a backlash from the GOP base, including those white working-class voters he helped lure to the Republican Party, depending on how much he abandons his populist campaign policies, such as building a wall along the Mexican border. It is also unclear how much the Democrats in the administration care about another Trump campaign promise: Cutting taxes on individuals and businesses.
Cohn, who spent most of his business career at Goldman Sachs, is said to be in favor of a corporate tax cut, but his position on cutting individual taxes—a keystone of conservative economic theory since the presidency of Ronald Reagan—is less certain.
At the moment, the Trump tax cut plan is in flux, with administration officials pointing the finger at the need to first pass health care reform. But skeptical Republicans are blaming it on the influence of Democrats in the administration who are less enthusiastic about the plan.
“So far [Trump’s base] has been willing to forgive him for everything,” said Mary Anne-Marsh, a political consultant at Dewey Square Group. But, Marsh added, that could easily change depending on what Trump is “compromising on. For some things they are going to stay with him but other situations, such as tax reform and health care, they will start distancing themselves if he doesn’t stick to those promises.”
Trump’s populist base may also be wary of Cuban, a billionaire tech entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team. Cuban openly supported Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, during the 2016 campaign, because he said he didn’t think Trump had the leadership skills to be president.
Cuban and Trump had a long and fraught relationship over the years. While both are self-made men, reality TV stars with a penchant for controversy and a tempestuous streak, they have at times seen themselves as rivals for attention.
Cuban said he believed the stock market would crash if Trump were elected; instead it has largely soared, though in recent weeks the rally in stocks has stalled along with the tax cut plan.
During the 2016 campaign, Cuban even discussed following in Trump’s footsteps and running for political office, including the presidency, as he bashed Trump’s policies on immigration and trade.
Cuban has continued that line of attack through most of the presidency, that is until now, as Trump seems to be moving away from hard-line, populist positions he ran on, and while Bannon’s influence is, at least for now, waning.
In his interview with FOX Business, Cuban said he still has his concerns. During the campaign, for example, Trump rallied against the “swamp” of corporate interests influencing decision making in Washington at the expense of average Americans. Yet Trump has appointed top executives from Goldman Sachs and other big corporation to key positions in the administration.
“The administration is populating the swamp not draining it,” Cuban snapped. He also said that Trump “didn't understand what he was proposing” during the campaign.
But Cuban, at least for now, seems to be giving Trump a chance to prove himself to be a moderate on issues such as immigration and trade. Cuban has long argued for Washington to work with Corporate America to promote job growth though a less onerous regulatory system and lower taxes.
When asked to grade the Trump president, Cuban said: “That's for another time. We have to see what he can get passed. I'm a fan of the conservative business values. But I'm not sure he can get any of them passed.”