Trump’s Top Economic Adviser Gary Cohn Is Resigning, but He Got What He Wanted

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13:  Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn (C) listens during a meeting between President Donald Trump and congressional members in the Cabinet Room of the White House February 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Trump held a meeting with congressional members to discuss trade.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Bye Gary.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s new trade war appears to have claimed its first casualty. The New York Times reports that Gary Cohn, the president’s top economic adviser, is preparing to quit the White House.

Anonymous officials tell the paper there is no single factor” behind Cohn’s decision to resign. But the timing is rather hard to ignore. Trump is preparing to impose large tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, a move that Cohn opposes. The National Economic Council director has been mounting an internal persuasion campaign to convince Trump to water down the plan he unexpectedly announced last week. But as of now, it looks like protectionists in the White House are winning the debate, and Cohn has had enough.

“Gary has been my chief economic adviser and did a superb job in driving our agenda, helping to deliver historic tax cuts and reforms and unleashing the American economy once again,” Trump said in a statement to Times. “He is a rare talent, and I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people.”

That may sound like pro forma praise for a departing lieutenant. But while Cohn may be exiting on a bit of a low note, having lost an important brawl over economic policy, one could argue that of all the major Trump administration officials to bail thus far, he is the only one to have accomplished his major goal.

As the former president of Goldman Sachs, Cohn was the unofficial leader of the White House’s Wall Street wing—capital’s inside man on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., a status that earned him the not-so-subtly anti-Semitic nickname “Globalist Gary” from the administration’s Breitbart contingent. (Cohn is Jewish.) With his commanding frame and ex-trader’s personality, he quickly won the president’s esteem, and for a while, Trump even considered picking Cohn to be the next Federal Reserve chair. But Cohn’s chances at the job apparently collapsed after he decided to publicly criticize the Trump’s response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which the president blamed neo-Nazis and counterprotesters for the deadly violence that erupted.

Cohn reportedly considered leaving the White House after the Charlottesville disgrace, going so far as to draw up a resignation letter (a fact which someone of course leaked to press, just so everybody knew just how upset Cohn was). But instead, he stayed on, and ultimately helped oversee the administration’s successful push to massively slash taxes for corporations. He wasn’t always the smoothest public salesman for the effort. He once kvelled that corporate CEOs were the “most excited group out there” about the bill, thus undercutting the Republican Party’s message that their tax cuts would mainly help workers. There was the awkward hand-raising incident. But ultimately, Cohn helped get the job done. And his friends in the banking industry were, of course, one of the biggest winners from the bill.

Gary Cohn: The man who swallowed the president’s racism and personal humiliation in order to guide tax cuts for his old employer at Goldman Sachs, and then quit over some steel tariffs. Wall Street is sure to welcome him back as a hero.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.