The Mooch sits unfazed.
Ensconced in his Long Island home, Anthony Scaramucci is enduring isolation and crisis like the rest of humanity — although, perhaps, with less hardship than most. But he’s quick to point out that this is, in fact, his ninth financial crisis since he started working on Wall Street in August 1989 (at Goldman Sachs, after graduating from Harvard Law School).
As such, his general mien: not giving much of a fuck about anything but his truth.
You can read it in his daily, business-as-usual tweets to his 850,000 followers. “It’s not that he’s dumb,” the Mooch tweeted on March 29 about his former boss, the president of the United States. “He is knowingly ignorant.”
You can watch it in his many television appearances on CNN and MSNBC, among others, from his home studio. (It seems he is no longer welcome on Fox News.)
And you can hear it in the recent conversation we had, in the midst of our ongoing quarantine. The Mooch has been hanging out at his new home in Nassau County, on the phone for 14 hours a day, doing his thing. His two young children with his second wife, Deidre, are buzzing around. One of the kids tries dialing the family landline — which the Mooch is using — in the middle of our conversation. The rest of the time, Scaramucci admits, he and Deidre are not exactly setting any homeschooling records. His three other children are scattered about the country: one at Stanford Business School, one in Los Angeles, one at home with his ex-wife. He seems calm, cool, and happy.
It’s hard to believe it has been almost three years since the hedge fund manager had his 11 days of infamy as the director of communications in the Trump administration before being felled — in an ironic twist — by a profanity-laced tirade to a reporter about his White House colleagues that he thought was off-the-record.
The Mooch has no regrets. In fact, he’s more energized by his experience than ever.
“When I was in the White House, it was literally like being George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life,” he says. “I had bumped my head on the bridge and I was in an alternative universe, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God. If I could just get back to my life, the one that I probably didn’t have enough appreciation for, I will kiss the ground every day.’ Then, literally 11 days later, like in the Jimmy Stewart movie, I’m blown out from the White House, and now I’m trying to reorder and get my life back.”
He reconciled with his wife, Deidre, following the strain put on their marriage by the Mooch’s being in Trump’s orbit. He returned to SkyBridge Capital, his hedge fund of funds, because, as he says, “I owned the company.” He resumed bolstering its assets under management and its financial performance — both of which had suffered during his efforts to sell the company so he could join the White House. Scaramucci had had a deal to sell SkyBridge to HNA Group, a big Chinese insurance company, but then the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States — made up of his Trump administration colleagues — blocked the sale. He says his portfolio managers vastly decreased SkyBridge’s exposure to equities before the coronavirus crisis hit and that the funds have outperformed the broader stock markets so far in 2020. He rejuvenated his high-profile SALT conferences in Las Vegas and Dubai, although concerns about the spreading Covid-19 virus forced the cancellation of the May 2020 SALT Conference, in Las Vegas.
“I’m sitting here with so much more everyday appreciation than I did prior,” says the Mooch. “I think that the virus actually takes everybody up a notch in terms of what they’re learning to appreciate — which are simpler things. In a weird way, the sort of personal calamity that I had has prepared me for this global calamity.”
Since he left the White House unceremoniously in July 2017, he insists, he’s wanted to be fair to Donald Trump.
“I’ve tried to call balls and strikes,” he tells me. “I tried to support the president. It became impossible to support him. I said, ‘Okay, I’m a Republican. I can’t support this.’ I have an enormous amount of respect for Mitt Romney.”
He thinks the Republican Party is being transformed — for the worse — right before his eyes. “The president is making a woeful mistake of turning the party into a tribe,” the Mooch explains. “He is a tribal leader. And the demographics of that tribe don’t work for the future of America. The American mosaic has got way more colors in it than in the 1950s. Harking back to that hagiography and all of that racially charged nonsense is long-term hurting the Republican Party. Don’t go by me. Look at the registration numbers. The Democratic registration numbers are up. The largest voting bloc is the Independents. And the Republicans, it’s close to 24 percent of the electorate. He’s not growing that base. He’s not opening that tent. Having a voice to speak out about that and to be honest about that with people in some ways has been very painful. I always tell people, ‘Once you turn your notifications off on Twitter, it becomes way less painful.’”
One of the topics about which the Mooch has been most outspoken is Trump’s ongoing assault on the truth — especially when it comes to Covid-19.
“You have the virus war,” he says. “You’ve had a trade war. But what you also have is a war on facts. If we’re going to litigate the facts, it’s almost impossible for us to have an honest debate. Because if I turn on one [TV] channel, I’m getting one set of facts, and now I’m empowered with those facts. Someone else is on another channel giving another set of facts. That’s where the tug-of-war is.”
The Mooch decries the abrupt change that has come over Fox News in its coverage of the coronavirus crisis — from once calling it a hoax to a seemingly more fact-based approach.
“If you go to the Mediate videos of the anchors saying one thing and then five days later they’re saying a completely different thing, that’s the war,” he says. “The war is on facts. The frustrating part of all this is that I’m arguing with very good friends — because they think I’m crazy because my facts are wrong.”
He goes on: “I’m an intellectually curious guy. Maybe my facts are wrong. I’m always watching everything and trying to think through everything. But one of the things that we’re learning about in our lives right now, as it relates to the war on facts, is that you can’t fudge the facts. You can’t say, ‘Fake science. The virus is not coming.’ Maybe this will be a wake-up call for everybody culturally, about how we need to start thinking [for] ourselves again.”
He says Trump is the master at “curving reality” to “his reality.” He’s done it throughout his life. “He built the Trump Tower,” Scaramucci points out. “No one thought he could do it. He put the Grand Hyatt up. No one thought he could do it. He failed in Atlantic City, but he spun from the ashes of Atlantic City by having amazing self-belief. You have to see him after 73 years of being able to curve or bend elements of reality toward the reality that he wants.”
He thinks Trump took a page from the same old playbook to try to fight this crisis. “What is that playbook? ‘I’m going to make this reality different from the reality people think it is. I’m going to beat Hillary Clinton versus lose to Hillary Clinton.’ He started with his playbook. And his playbook was to deflect. And his playbook was to create a level of distraction. And his playbook was to go with his own instincts, as opposed to those of the experts.”
The Mooch pauses. He’s trying hard to be objective about Trump.
“He is arguably one of the best promoters, best salespeople,” he starts again. “Some people call him a con artist. Some people call him a four-dimensional chess player. But let’s just stipulate, for the sake of this conversation, he’s been a pretty good marketer his whole life. He has decided that by exaggerating things to fit his narrative, that seems to have worked for him. When he’s tweeting out that ‘95 percent Republican Party approval rating’ and nobody can find any polling data that links to that — he does that. Now maybe he’s doing that to trigger people — or maybe he’s doing that to make people believe that he has a 95 percent Republican Party approval rating.”
Scaramucci continues: “But when you’re meeting science and you’re not meeting subjective feeling, and now you’re meeting objective data and objective science, he lit a fuse on the original playbook, which is you deflect, you distract, you exaggerate where things are going to make people feel better, to put, quote/unquote, people at ease psychologically. ‘Everything is going to be okay. We’re going from 15 to zero.’ Then it became irrefutable what was going on, just by looking at the numbers. People that understand math and statistics know that you have an exponential problem, and if it is ten times worse than the flu, the only question is, ‘Are we moving quick enough?’ I’ve been very critical of the president. I’m not going to hold back on my criticism.”
Again, wanting to be fair, he notes that Trump has finally acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and has taken some steps to try to combat it. The president has finally conceded that the virus could last indefinitely and the economy is headed for a recession. The Mooch points out that the financial markets appreciated that move. “I don’t want to argue with anybody,” he says. “I want to come up with nonpartisan objective strategies to make this better for people.”
He admits to not being 100 percent successful in that endeavor, recalling a recent Morning Joe appearance when he said Trump is “the virus.” He wishes he had said that Trump is “a virus.”
“I unfortunately said, ‘He is the virus,’” he explains. “But the point is he is a virus. He’s replicating a series of bad leadership qualities, a lack of crisis management instincts, and he’s replicating a series of lies. The president, it turns out, has probably a six or seven R-naught factor on lying. What happens is you’re in contact with him, he’s lying. You’re working for him, and now he’s got six more people lying. Then those six people start lying. You see what I’m saying?”
The Mooch also doesn’t think the recent $2 trillion fiscal stimulus package went far enough — especially on Main Street. He thinks it should have been more like $3.2 trillion. He said this the other day on CNN. Another of the guests was Andrew Yang, the former Democratic presidential candidate. Yang agreed with him. In our conversation the Mooch elaborated, saying he thinks each American adult below a certain income level should get a check for $3,000 and each child should get $1,500. Assuming those checks would go to 300 million Americans, that’s $800 billion out of his $3.2 trillion. “For what I could call the Andrew Yang Plan on steroids.”
Scaramucci says those payments are needed just to “keep the economy going, from a consumption cycle perspective” and to help shore up the supply chain. He would then earmark an additional $2 trillion to set up some sort of bank that would “lend, gift, or grant” money to businesses in need. Small businesses would be granted money as long as they agreed to keep their workers on the payroll or to hire them back when things improve. A company like Boeing, he says, might qualify for a no-interest loan, with the understanding that there would be no employee layoffs, no dividends paid to shareholders for five years, and no stock buybacks.
“You’re going to need $2 trillion to shore this thing up, to really shore it up, where people can come of out this thing six months from now and be optimistic and healthy from a financial perspective,” the Mooch continues. He also envisions a tax payment reduction to zero for those making below $85,000 a year, and a cut in half for those making between $85,000 and $150,000. That would cost a further $250 billion. Another piece of the plan would be to spend an additional $150 billion for hospitals, hospital care, and hospital infrastructure. But Scaramucci is also willing to admit that between the Federal Reserve’s decision to pump $4 trillion into the financial system and levering 8-to-1 the $500 billion earmarked for rescuing small businesses — for another $4 trillion — the Trump administration is finally on the right track on stimulus.
The Mooch sees this kind of spending both as necessary and as a percentage of GDP and deficit spending akin to what America did during World War II. “Let’s say we’re going to go back to our biggest war,” he suggests. “We spent 26 percent of the GDP in 1941. By 1945, we were down to 20 percent of the GDP. In a $20 trillion economy, the deficit would be $4 trillion. It seems like that’s where it should be, given the fact that we are now fighting a global war against a virus. I would say something else to my fellow Americans. I would say if you want to be in a 1946 position when this is over — where America is still standing and economically viable — it’s worth that expenditure to get us ramped back up to 20 percent of the GDP and deficit-spend.”
He notes how anxious people are about both the health crisis and the financial crisis. “I believe that the anxiety, unless this is fully addressed, will move exponentially, like the virus, through the American people.” (Some of his thinking about what the right stimulus package should be is likely informed by Scaramucci’s participation in Strategic Worldviews, a think tank joint venture between the Mooch and investment banker Robert Wolf that also includes Austan Goolsbee, Glenn Hubbard, Jason Furman, and Stephen Moore, among others.)
Being the Mooch, he also has opinions about what the combined health and financial crises will mean for Trump’s reelection prospects. And it’s not what you’d expect.
Just as when he was in Davos in January and found that 80 percent of that crowd thought Trump would be reelected, Scaramucci took a contrarian view with me: He is again thinking outside of the conventional wisdom that Trump is doomed politically. There’s simply too much time before November to know how this will play out at the polls.
“If you’ve got 240 days to go prior to the election, that’s like 500 years in Trump world,” the Mooch says. “You’re taking the United States back before the Mayflower. You’re in the age of Columbus here in North America. We’re two months past my Davos interview, and I’m now telling you I’m neutral on his reelection. I’m not as confident that he’s going to lose, because if they deploy the stimulus that I’m talking about, they will save the economy.”
Scaramucci adds, “For politicians, things that are situational get personalized. No politician could have controlled this virus, right? But all the politicians can respond to it, and with good luck they respond favorably. With bad luck they respond less favorably.” For better or for worse, this is Trump’s economic crisis and Trump’s health crisis. And with Trump it’s even more personal than it would be with another politician because he always makes everything about him.
“If he puts [enough] stimulus in, he could come out a hero,” the Mooch says. “If he doesn’t put enough stimulus in, we go into a protracted recession/depression. Then Mickey Mouse is going to be able to beat him in November.”
Scaramucci thinks the Democratic primaries — particularly on Super Tuesday, when fears of the pandemic were especially acute — showed that Democratic voters are energized and have mobilized in vast numbers to defeat the president in November. Trump should be worried about this turnout, he says.
“The polarizing personality and the alienation have got a lot of people passionately voting,” the Mooch explains. “The passion seems to be on the side of the Democrats this time, whereas in the last election I would say the Democrats were less passionate.”
But then he remembers that we’re all quarantined in Trump’s alternate universe.
“It’s 500 years in Trumpland,” he says. “Look at the last 60 days. Don’t you think things have changed a little in the last 60 days? That’s Trumpland. You cannot tell me in 60 days we’re not going to be in a dramatically different environment. It would be impossible to predict, but I’m less confident now of him getting defeated, because, let’s face it, he’s way better as an underdog fighter than he is as an overdog. Let’s put it that way. The bottom line is: I’m in a neutral position now on his reelection. If you ask me in another two months, it’ll be another exponential move in the world and then we can assess it again.”
For more than two years, Scaramucci has used his increased prominence and his media access to criticize Trump. But now, utterly unfettered, he seems to have begun to channel that criticism into something that looks more coherent — almost like a political platform. He’s created Strategic Worldviews. Before the coronavirus metastasized, the Mooch was traveling the country, meeting with all kinds of people in small groups, much as political candidates do. His stimulus plan — calling for 50 percent more money than Trump signed into law — also seems well conceived. He’s wealthy enough and handsome enough to potentially be a viable candidate. I can’t help but ask whether he’s thought about a political career of some sort.
“I don’t know if elected politics is part of my future,” the Mooch says. “But I’m already in the soup. This is like you’re in Don Vito Corleone’s family now. You can’t get out if you wanted to.”