We've all watched in shocked horror as Donald Trump and his transition team have blitzed the news media with a series of rapid-fire blunders and incomprehensible blurts. It's almost impossible to keep track of them as they whiz on by. It's perhaps the only truly smart (and sinister) thing they've gotten right so far: keeping the rest of us in a perpetual state of triage and swatting down the awfulness as rapidly as it arises.
One story that hasn't received hardly any attention at all -- or, at least, no one's really making a big deal of it, and we probably should be. On Thursday's edition of CNBC's "Squawk Box" program, Kellyanne Conway, the pollster who some would argue successfully rescued the Trump campaign by injecting her special brand of unbreakable spin into the debate, revealed a harrowing bit of nefarious and potentially destructive strategy -- a strategy that could toss the stock market into chaos while personally enriching Trump's overblown fortune.
Conway warned that Trump is capable of manipulating the stock market using Twitter, and he's willing to do it whenever he feels like it.
CONWAY: So, President-elect Trump sees that he has this massive online platform. He says about 35 million on Twitter and Facebook combined. And he sees an opportunity to communicate right to people by cutting through the noise or the silence, whatever the case may be, through social media platforms. But see that through tweets now he can affect industry, he affected the stock market yesterday, frankly, and he did it twice. He did it in two different ways: first, by telling Boeing to cancel the project or maybe put it on hold. He thinks it's too expensive, it goes against his entire platform of cutting waste and abuse in the system. And then their stocks went down 1.5 percent yesterday. And then secondly, he went down to the lobby in Trump Tower where the media are, and he announced a $50 billion -- that's with a "b" -- investment by SoftBank.
This is absolutely insane for a whole menu of reasons.
1) No president or president-elect, for that matter, ought to be directly monkeying with the stock market unless there's an emergency and he has to suspend trading. It's unclear at the moment whether such activities are even legal. Even if it isn't illegal, one, does it matter to Trump? And, two, he's potentially and artificially stripping healthy stocks of, perhaps, significant wealth just by issuing a ridiculous tweet.
2) This is not normal!
3) It's a remarkably easy way for Trump and his cronies to make a fast buck. Here's how. If Trump directly attacks any publicly traded company on Twitter in the middle of the night, he's deliberately driving down the company's stock price. (Directly due to Trump's tweets about Boeing, the stock lost around $1 billion -- billion with a "b" -- in value.) All he needs to do is to drop a text to his kids or cohorts on Wall Street who will quickly buy the stock in its deflated condition, then sell the stock when it later recovers. We'll never know for sure since he's playing games with his tax returns and financial disclosures.
4) Trump can use this to intimidate and manipulate businesses to do whatever the hell he wants. If he wants a business to turn over phone records or perhaps the name of an informant or the identity of a news source, all he needs to do is to manipulate that company's stock price until the stockholders force the CEO to cave.
6) This is not normal!
7) Um, free market conservatives? Hello? Anybody?
Furthermore, I'm not sure how exactly Trump plans to keep up this piecemeal strategy of calling businesses one-by-one and doing whatever the hell he's doing. This is not how presidents are supposed to behave given that there are thousands of large corporations in the United States controlling millions of jobs. It's like Steve Martin personally filling out thousands of individual settlement checks in The Jerk. It's a massive waste of time without any significant results.
The Carrier deal, for example, required a colossal chunk of time and effort (calls, tweets, a visit to Indiana by Trump, post-deal spin, etc) and only managed to "rescue" around 700-800 jobs, depending on who we ask. Competent presidents, on the other hand, usually establish a certain set of policies that, together, impact thousands of companies all at once. President Obama's bailout of the auto industry, to name one. Can you imagine if Obama went to one plant, rescued a few hundred jobs, while more than a thousand workers were laid off and their jobs sent to Mexico? Instead, Obama implemented what's called "a policy" then saved 1.5 million jobs with a single pen-stroke. That's how it's done. No Twitter threats in the middle of the night, and zero stock market shenanigans. Oh, and the bailout was designed as a loan, which GM, Chrysler and the others paid back with interest. The corporate welfare for Carrier, on the other hand, is money out the door, never to return.
So, we now have a chief executive who uses Twitter to game the stock market.
This. Is. Not. Normal.