Gary Cohn’s journey through the Trump White House has been a strange, humiliating and painful one beset by a deeply chaotic lack of clarity that he never experienced in his many years at Goldman Sachs.
And now it should finally end.
While we never really understood why Gary thought he could be effective in an administration headed by Donald Trump. Sure, the possibility of getting corporate tax reform done was very compelling, and Gary was obviously a key player in helping that happen. But to do so he was forced into the kabuki theatre of “working with” Steve Mnuchin on that absurd one-page plan, asked to go on TV to sell it to an American public that he hasn’t understood in decades, and we won’t even go into what happened after Charlottesville.
After the reshuffling of the personnel deck that brought John Kelly to power in the West Wing, it appeared that Gary had re-emerged as a power player after being benched for criticizing Neo-Nazis. He seemed to finally gain the upper hand in imposing his reasoned “globalist” approach to the Trump economic agenda. Kelly even went as far as to place some of the administration’s fringier economic thinkers under Gary’s watch, giving him a real shot to keep Trump closer to the kind of centrist policies that real financial people prefer.
One of the major things that Gary seemed to be able to reign in was this administration’s almost macho adolescent flirtation with starting a multi-fronted trade war. With Steve Bannon gone from the scene, Wilbur Ross either asleep or focused on building his moon gas station, and Peter Navarro tucked safely away in a closet inside an office in the basement under the EEOB, Gary appeared to have finally silenced the potent strain of antagonist isolationism that Trump is so drawn to when it comes to trade policy.
A few weeks ago, even we came to the conclusion that Gary might as well stick around this White House if only to keep playing safety on Trump’s inchoate need to start throwing tariffs on shit and force a trade war with whichever nation “Fox & Friends” said was bad on that particular morning. Gary Cohn’s dumb adventure in government had been boiled down to one task: “Keep us out of a trade war long enough to get the private sector to pay for an infrastructure plan.”
And then yesterday happened.
With Peter Navarro apparently running free through the halls of the West Wing yelling about Chinese steel and probably scrawling “US STEEL RULZ” on the walls with his own feces, Gary was also suddenly contending with the minor miracle of Wilbur Ross’ office doing an actual memo that the secretary stayed awake long enough to understand. And despite what Politico is calling several weeks of “absolute chaos,” during which Gary railed against tariffs that would tank the markets, Trump went ahead and announced them anyway with the end result being exactly what Cohn had forewarned.
The reaction from Wall Street has been almost uniformly shocked and critical. Even Larry Kudlow jumped on TV to slap his BFF Donald on the wrist and whine that this is bad for business. Analysts everywhere are warning that Trump is dangerously off the reservation, putting NAFTA at risk and “Not Jamie Dimon” told CNBC that it’s a “huge, huge mistake.” But those same people all seem to want Gary Cohn to stay right where he is. Even Kudlow is telling CNBC that “I have to tell you, personally, I am urging Gary Cohn to stay and fight for another day. He’s done a great job.”
This is like the fifth time in 14 months that we can look at Gary Cohn and indignantly scream “You had ONE job!” He’s been fighting a losing battle since the day he got there, existing inside a situation that is untenable for any thinking person. He’s even been forced to pretend to respect people like Steve Mnuchin, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump before swallowing whatever pride he has left to grin and giggle over small victories while standing on the White House lawn in the dead of winter.
Let’s just say it and be done: Gary Cohn has failed. He hasn’t made this White House more efficacious or smarter, he hasn’t saved us from bad decision-making or dumb scandal and he certainly hasn’t brought in a “Government Sachs” team of talented people to keep Mnuchin, Wilbur and Mick fucking Mulvaney in line with basic reason. Gary’s career at Goldman was impressive and his rise to power there was a masterclass in toughness, Machiavellian power moves and no-nonsense management. His career in the Trump White House has been the total opposite of that.
So while we do enjoy disagreeing with Larry Kudlow just for the sheer enjoyment of disagreeing with Larry Kudlow, we are doing it now through a deeper conviction: Get out, Gary Cohn. It’s already much too late, but don’t fight another day. Come back to New York City, exert pressure from the outside and start writing the memoir that you know you’re going to write eventually.
It’s over, Gary Cohn. You know it. It’s been over for awhile.
And, yes, please do feel free to tweet this post back at us when Gary takes the chief-of-staff job in a week or two.