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Romney's economic brain trust

April 18, 2012: 5:00 AM ET

The long trek to the White House is never made alone. Instead, candidates pick up all manner of consultants, pollsters, advisers, press officers and wanna-be appointees along the way.

Mitt Romney, now considered his party's presumptive nominee, has his own team of four economic advisers. Harvard economist Greg Mankiw and Columbia Business School's Glenn Hubbard hail from academia.  Former Sen. Jim Talent and Rep. Vin Weber bring knowledge of Washington's hallways of power.

Hubbard and Mankiw are both prominent economists with solid academic reputations. And both should be comfortable brushing shoulders with Romney after leading George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers (at different times). Mankiw is the author of an extremely popular economics textbook. Both trend to the right politically, and are well respected by colleagues.

Talent, who represented Missouri in Congress, now works at the conservative Heritage Foundation. In addition to his campaign duties, Weber is managing partner of Clark & Weinstock, a Washington-based consulting and lobbying shop. The old D.C. hands bring experience and connections that Romney, having spent his career elsewhere, just does not have.

According to Romney, the group is meant to be more than mere figureheads. In his official introduction of the team last year, the former Massachusetts governor said the advisers had already been "instrumental in helping me to craft policies."

But advisers can also make trouble for a campaign if they stray off message or hold divergent beliefs. And this group of advisers, like all others, presents a few problem spots for the campaign.

Mankiw, the high-profile Harvard professor, has come to the defense of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his handling of the financial crisis. "Mr. Bernanke," Mankiw wrote in July, "has worked tirelessly to shepherd the economy through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and yet, for all his efforts, seems vastly underappreciated."

One of the people who seem to be, in Mankiw's words, unappreciative? Romney -- who has said he would be looking for a new central bank chief and has indicated he favors tighter monetary policy (Romney would have to wait until Bernanke's term expires in Jan. 2014 to replace him).

Mankiw has also argued for hiking the gas tax, a policy position that surely ranks among the least popular of all time.

Hubbard, meanwhile, is a major proponent of a large-scale mortgage refinance program designed to prevent foreclosures and heal the housing market. Romney argues the best medicine for the troubled sector is no medicine -- market forces should be allowed to run their course.

Hubbard, Mankiw and Weber have all spoken favorably of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. That means they would be willing to accept more federal revenue as part of a broader deficit reduction plan. But Romney famously raised his hand during a primary debate to say he would reject any deal that raised taxes, even if the ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes was 10 to 1.

Even with these differences, there are vast swaths of policy where the advisers and candidate are on the same page. Hubbard helped design the Bush tax cuts, and his fingerprints are all over Romney's recent proposal to cut marginal income tax rates by 20%. And the campaign, even while battling for primary votes, stayed away from outside-the-mainstream plans like Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax scheme and other Tea Party-infused policy ideas.

If the Romney camp were to succeed in getting their man a seat in the Oval Office, Hubbard and Mankiw would provide a solid base of advisers to build on. And there, should the economists remain on board, divergent views can become an asset.

President Obama, for example, didn't shy away from putting people with different policy ideas in prominent positions. Team of Rivals, anyone?

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About This Author
Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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