Anthony Scaramucci is in his favorite place: the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It’s where he built up his influence through a combination of lavish spending and shameless glad-handing.
Except this year, Davos is seeing a whole new Anthony Scaramucci. His usual smiles and schmoozing have been replaced by a weight-of-the-world-is-on-my-shoulders seriousness, and the message has been transformed from a cheerful “let’s all get even richer” to a seeming concern for asset-poor people left behind by globalization.
This conversion, Scaramucci will tell you, was born on the Trump campaign trail, and now he has set aside his former life and is selling his businesses to focus on public service.
What’s more, the Mooch (nicknames die hard) has a whole new level of celebrity now: he’s part of the Davos 1%, the tiny subset of delegates who get mobbed by television cameras and business-card wielding networkers and miscellaneous selfie hunters wherever they go, and who have unfettered access to every soirée. If Davos is FOMO in its most rarefied form, then Scaramucci is now up there with the likes of Bono and Bill Clinton in the select group of people who can rest assured that there’s no party they’re not invited to.
That status alone has helped bring a minimum (and entirely unwarranted) level of respect to the incoming Trump administration: you’re much less likely to be overtly rude about someone if they’re in the same small town that you’re in and if you want them to come to your party. But beyond that, the substance of Scaramucci’s public remarks has also done a pretty good job of disarming the Davos crowd.
Scaramucci is not a natural Trump surrogate. For obvious reasons, people are listening much more carefully to what he says than they ever did in the past, just like they’re paying much more attention to Donald Trump’s tweets. But while Trump has proudly and steadfastly refused to change his tone in the light of his new responsibilities, Scaramucci has transformed himself into an economic populist who manages to walk the very fine line of being true to Trump’s policies while simultaneously respecting all of the core Davos principles.
Weirdly, he seems to have become much more of an intellectual in the process. For a graduate from both Harvard Law School and Goldman Sachs, Scaramucci's “I’m just a simple guy from Long Island” schtick always rang a bit false, and now he’s happy leaving it behind, dropping names like George Kennan and Klemens von Metternich in an attempt to get Trump taken seriously by the Davos elite.
The Scaramucci strategy in Davos, then, is very un-Trumpish. Where Trump would be confrontational, Scaramucci is conciliatory. He talks, for instance, about how “the Chinese and the Americans have common cause,” and happily praises the First Amendment and the ideals of “a pluralistic society”. He even praises globalization, albeit a US-centric version of it where “the path to globalism for the world is through the American worker.”
It’s an approach well suited to a Harvard Law graduate: Start with Trump’s public statements, and then attempt to reverse-engineer them in a way which not only makes a modicum of logical sense, but also does so without offending too many Davos sensibilities.
In this world, Trump’s isolationism is just a recognition of post-Cold War realities. His protectionism becomes recalibrated as “fairness”: a way of standing up for the downtrodden and the 97% of the world’s population who didn’t benefit from rising asset prices. Fairness, in turn, is recalibrated as any policy which privileges the American working class (who, of course, earn much more money than their counterparts in developing countries, not that Scaramucci will ever mention it). “The path to globalism for the world,” said Scaramucci to the Davos crowd, “is through the American worker” – both as a winner in trade renegotiations, and as a newly-flush driver of global growth.
None of this is particularly convincing, either as rhetoric or as forward-looking punditry. (A policy of tax cuts and infrastructure investment is not going to magically make America’s working class rich again, and neither is a strong dollar compatible with growing American exports.) But the talk is extremely effective, all the same, in terms of disarming any potential explicit confrontation between the global elite and Donald Trump.
As a rule, criticism of Trump at Davos generally happens between the lines: Chinese president Xi Jinping, for instance, might have taken aim at Trump’s policies in his speech on Tuesday, but was careful not to explicitly call out Trump, or even the U.S.
Even the anti-Trump statement unveiled on the eve of Davos by a group of nonprofits including Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and Oxfam somehow manages to avoid mentioning Trump by name. Call it subtweet diplomacy: everybody is terrified of criticizing Trump by name, because he doesn’t respond well to such provocations.
So chalk this one up for the Mooch in his new job: The level of self-censorship in Davos this year has reached unprecedented levels. So much for open dialogue.