After failing to dissuade President Trump from imposing potentially counter-productive tariffs on imported metals, the man regarded as the driving force behind the administration’s tax reforms and regulatory rollback said yesterday he will leave the White House in coming weeks.
Director of the National Economic Council (NEC) Gary D. Cohn said in a statement that he enjoyed working on "pro-growth economic policies to benefit the American people, in particular the passage of historic tax reform."
Trump’s desire to again win the blue Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania in 2020 may be behind the president’s insistence on tariffs. Trump, the master negotiator, may also believe that the threat of tariffs will allow the U.S. to get a better deal under a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“What is a little bit worrisome is the question of who replaces [Cohn] is coming in the middle of this fight on tariffs that has divided the White House between the protectionist point of view and free trade point of view,” according to Lanhee Chen, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and policy director to the 2012 Romney-Ryan presidential campaign.
“It’s going to be hard to find a good economic mind who supports the president’s current economic agenda on tariffs,” an anonymous former White House official said.
Politico described Cohn as “a New York Democrat and avowed free-trader,” and as a “hard-charging former Goldman Sachs president who eased market fears about President Donald Trump’s erratic presidency.”
Republicans must have a strong economy this year and President Trump has to boost his standing with voters in order for the GOP to avoid losing control of Congress in November. With Cohn getting out of Dodge, the president seems more likely to be influenced by economic nationalists in the White House, which could, at least in theory, damage the U.S. economy and undermine Trump who already has weak approval ratings in polls.
Cohn, who began his working life at U.S. Steel, pressed Trump to keep American markets open to promote growth. He “tried desperately to persuade Trump not to impose sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum, arguing they would kick off a global trade war that could damage the U.S. economy.”
So far Trump “has ignored Cohn’s advice, siding with nationalist advisers who strongly favor the tariffs,” the news report states. “A meeting planned for Thursday at the White House with executives from companies that could be hurt by tariffs has now been canceled.”
Cohn is expected to stay on at the executive mansion “for at least a couple of weeks and continue to battle Trump and the White House nationalists to more carefully tailor the tariffs to avoid antagonizing allies and inviting retribution.”
An unnamed White House official told Politico the impending exit of Trump’s chief economic adviser portends doom.
“The number of bad ideas that have come though this White house that were thankfully killed dead — there are too many to count,” the official was quoted saying. “With Gary gone, I just think, from a policy perspective, it means disaster.”
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted sympathetically about the Goldman alumnus. “Gary Cohn deserves credit for serving his country in a first class way. I’m sure I join many others who are disappointed to see him leave.”
Cohn’s resignation is one in a series of recent high-profile White House departures that the mainstream media cites as supposed proof that Trump’s White House is in chaos.
It is true that turnover in Trump's first year more than tripled churn in the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency, and doubled the rate in the first year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, according to the left-of-center Brookings Institution.
“A full 34 percent of high-level White House aides either resigned, were fired or moved into different positions in this first year of the Trump presidency,” NPR previously reported, citing the Brookings study.
Markets seemed rattled by Cohn’s seemingly sudden announcement.
Wall Street benchmarks took a beating Tuesday evening. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 417 points or 1.7 percent, and the U.S. dollar, as measured by the ICE U.S. Dollar Index that gauges the greenback against a basket of half a dozen currencies, dropped as much as 0.7 percent to 89.43, according to MarketWatch.
Although Trump had publicly expressed confidence in Cohn, the NEC chief has been threatening to resign for a while. In early January when he was asked how committed he was to his job, his tepid reply was, “I’m here today.”
Fabulist Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, claimed Cohn complained about Trump’s supposed lack of intelligence and inability to concentrate. An email Wolff said was circulated around the White House and that purports “to represent the views of Gary Cohn,” blasts Trump at some length.
“I am in a constant state of shock and horror,” Wolff said the e-mail reads.
Cohn politely said Wolff was full of it. “You can say Gary Cohn has never written an email more than five words.”
Cohn, who is Jewish, reportedly thought that President Trump failed to grovel sufficiently before left-wingers after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August. As Trump correctly stated, leftists descended on the rally site, attacking people with bats and clubs.
The president’s politically incorrect insistence on blaming the radical leftists of Antifa for their rightful share of the violence was met with predictable howls of outrage by the Left and their media allies. The people holding the “Unite the Right” rally may not all have been upstanding citizens, but holding and expressing views that are unpopular, even widely considered to be morally repugnant, is no reason to deprive those people of the right to express themselves in public.
But the Left cannot forgive Trump, who repeatedly denounced the right-wing extremists who organized the rally, but stood up for their First Amendment rights.
Nor can Cohn, it appears.