BY SUSAN ESTRICH
Poor Gary Cohn, the Goldman Sachs banker who was standing next to Donald Trump at Trump Tower for that awful press conference in which Trump defended his statement blaming “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, VA. The president’s top economic adviser, who is Jewish, reportedly told associates that he was “disgusted” by the president’s remarks. Cohn said publicly that the White House had to do better to fight racism.
But he didn’t resign in disgust as some, yours truly included, thought he should. He wanted to change things from the inside, some said. He wanted to replace Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve chair, more said.
On Tuesday, Trump let it be known to The Wall Street Journal, which then let it be known to the world, that the president was not “likely” to appoint Cohn as Fed chair. Not “likely”?
Jake Tapper from CNN said in a tweet that a source told him Cohn is “more likely to get electric chair than Fed Chair.”
This is a president who cuts people loose very quickly and easily, no matter how long they’ve worked with him, what they’ve done for him or how much he owes them. Say good night to the Mooch. To Steve Bannon. To Reince Priebus. To my personal favorite: Sean Spicer. Don’t forget former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
To be sure, some of these folks wrote their own walking papers. Still, this is pretty brutal. No goodbye parties on this team. Supposedly, Bannon was in line to get a gracious exit. I figure he put out that story. It would certainly be a first.
None of this matters, of course, when a president is flying high. When a president is flying high, everyone wants to work for him.
Plenty of people still do when a president is flying low. But not quite so many. And not quite so good.
And when a White House has a reputation as brutal as this one does, when the president is not only impossible to control but also impossibly thin-skinned, obsessed with the media and leaks and ranking and ratings, you can see why people joke about the various games secretaries play to duck calls for their bosses from the White House. In the Jimmy Carter years, staffers would get dropped off a block away because even the Washington cab drivers had turned on the Democratic president. These days, jobs in the administration just seem to go unfilled.
Gary Cohn was trying to have it both ways. He wanted to keep up appearances with those who expected him to stand up. He is the one who let the word out about how disgusted he was. Who else was the source of a story that claimed Cohn drafted a resignation letter after that terrible press conference?
And then he wanted to stay, too – because what finance guy doesn’t want to be the chairman of the most powerful central bank in the world? Tuesday, the word on the street was that Trump would either reappoint Yellen or give the nod to Cohn. Before Charlottesville, all the smart money was on Cohn. Now, it’s Yellen or a new starter. The president didn’t have to go out of his way to eliminate Cohn. He just wanted to.
If you take on the president, you can’t expect him to play nice. He’s a powerful guy – at least if he has the power to appoint you to the job you want most. You can understand why Gary Cohn tried to have it both ways. And why it could never possibly work. You can’t take on a guy as thin-skinned as Trump and expect him to take it. Once Cohn stopped smiling on cue, he was toast.
Which is not a reason for silence. Not a reason for phony photo opportunities in the face of dangerous equivocation. No indeed. Quite the contrary.
It’s the reason to stand up in the first instance and be counted.
And never count on getting the job.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer