A long time ago in an alternate universe far, far away, I wrote a Salon column about how the Republican Party was in trouble because rich gadflies had decided to get personally involved in electoral strategy and that could only spell their doom. These were foolish wealthy donors for the most part, people who believed the size of their bank accounts meant they were renaissance geniuses who can do anything.
Needless to say my prophesy didn't turn out the way I thought it would. One of those gadflies is going to be inaugurated president of the United States in two days. And it turns out that the central focus of my long-ago column has been named a top adviser to that new president.
His name is Anthony "the Mooch" Scaramucci, and he could be a character out of an Elmore Leonard novel. In fact, in my 2014 article I wrote, "the man’s hijinks make Donald Trump look like a prince by comparison." (I didn't know the extent of Trump's high jinks at the time.) Scaramucci has a big mouth and a big wallet and he has been ostentatiously rubbing elbows with the political elite for quite some time.
Scaramucci made a ton of money in hedge funds and, like his new boss, he loves to show off his wealth as a reality-TV star. In 2009, he starred in a show called “Untold Wealth: The Rise of the Super Rich.” (Like Trump, Saddam Hussein and Louis XIV, his taste runs toward gold and mirrors.) He has been a regular on CNBC, offering himself up as an expert on all things financial and has cultivated many friends in high places.
But Scaramucci has particularly concentrated on politics, hosting a sort of mini-Davos called SkyBridge Alternatives Conference (or SALT for short) named after his hedge fund. He invites sports and entertainment stars to rub shoulders with major officials, politicos and wealthy master of the universe types in Las Vegas for a little networking and a lot of partying. According to Ken Vogel, who wrote about this conclave for Politico, Scaramucci was seen as "a validator who can steer major Wall Street money to hedge funds and super PACs alike." The Mooch is a liaison, a middleman, a matchmaker.
He is also self-aggrandizing and has a reputation for indiscretion, spilling campaign finance secrets on Twitter and posting on Facebook backstage pictures of luminaries at the 2012 GOP convention. He made a particularly egregious gaffe by alerting a reporter to a closed-door fundraiser where Karl Rove was recorded telling fellow Republicans they needed to "sink" Todd Akin, the Senate candidate of "legitimate rape" fame. (That flap seems almost quaint in the age of Trump.)
Vogel quoted a conservative Wall Streeter characterizing Scaramucci as someone with the profile of Sheldon Adelson but without the bank account:
“Do people take him seriously? I think they do because of his image and his brand, more so than because of his political giving. The only thing similar between his politics and his business, including SALT, is that it’s all about him.”
It's easy to see why Trump would be impressed. Scaramucci is an obnoxious, crude, indiscreet, wealthy egomaniac. What's not to like? Naturally Trump has hired him as his adviser and public liaison to government agencies and businesses, according to press reports.
This week Scaramucci is attending the actual conclave in Davos rather than his home-grown imitation, reassuring all the big-money players that Trump isn't really going to do anything that will displease them. According to The Wall Street Journal, Scaramucci told that gathering:
“If you guys get a little bit upset about the tweeting or some of the things that [Trump is] saying, I want to put your mind at ease. Directionally, this is a super-compassionate man. He’s not necessarily communicating in a way that the people in this community would love, but he is communicating very, very effectively to a very large group of the population in Europe and in the United States that are feeling a common struggle right now that maybe many of us here in this room do not feel.”
He also reportedly said that Trump is "one of the last great hopes for globalism” but it's broken and only he can fix it. He used China as an example, explaining that Trump doesn't want a trade war but expects "symmetry" and therefore demands that China "reach now towards us and allow us to create this symmetry because the path to globalism for the world is through the American worker and the American middle class."
I'm sure the rest of the world thinks that sounds perfectly fair and will happily sublimate the needs of their own people because Donald Trump says so. After all, Scaramucci vouches for his good intentions, assuring everyone that Trump is "the least racist person" Scaramucci has ever met.
But even more interesting than the Mooch's PR outreach to the global masters of the universe is his personal dealmaking on the eve of the inauguration and his ascension to an important post in the White House. In the middle of Trump's monumental Russian scandal, Bloomberg reported yesterday that Scaramucci openly admits that he "discussed possible joint investments in a meeting in Davos with the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund that the U.S. sanctioned in 2015."
He also gave interviews to Russian media outlets, expressing the opinion that the sanctions haven't worked because Russians get mad at those who inflict them.
Since he is notoriously indiscreet, Scaramucci also blurted out that he had been working for months on the sovereign wealth fund deal. (Remember, this wealth fund has been under U.S. government sanctions since 2015.) He told Bloomberg that he would have to determine whether he can continue to work this deal from the White House, what with ethics rules and all.
Luckily, Scaramucci happens to have sold his own hedge fund — this week — so it should all be fine. That is, unless some stodgy old ethics lawyer thinks it might be inappropriate for a liaison from the White House to arrange private business deals with Russian businesses to benefit who knows whom or if you believe that when the U.S. imposes sanctions on a foreign country for violations of international law they should be honored by American businessmen who are about to become White House advisers. But if all of that is no problem, then the Mooch should be in the clear.