A liberal Democrat who wants to impose a carbon tax on the United States is newly ascendant in the struggle for White House influence after President Trump publicly diminished his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, in a brief Tuesday interview with the New York Post.
Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, is best positioned to rise, if a high-level shake-up were to happen, a source close to several senior White House officials and familiar with the internal jockeying told LifeZette.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late.”
Cohn is a still a registered Democrat and a former president of Goldman Sachs. Cohn’s ideology, critics contend, runs counter to the platform that carried Trump to victory in November. Many Trump loyalists are puzzled as to why Trump appears to be eyeing him for a larger role.
Already, Cohn has floated new banking regulations and has invited advocates of a carbon tax to the White House. It’s one reason the source close to several key figures in the White House told LifeZette that Cohn critics refer to him as “globalist Gary.”
Indeed, Cohn’s influence already seems reminiscent of the rise of Dick Darman in the administration of President George H. W. Bush. Darman convinced Bush to abandon his “no new taxes” pledge of the 1988 campaign, leading Bush to defeat in 1992.
But there is another reason for Cohn’s rise beyond the shrinking influence of the populist faction within Trump’s White House: Trump shuffles through people, and right now, Cohn is the new face.
“Trump loves the shiny new object, whether it’s a thing or a person,” tweeted Maggie Haberman, the New York Times reporter who Trump often appears eager to please. “Right now that shiny new object is Cohn.”
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Bannon is not on the firing line for an immediate ejection from his post, the source believes, but Trump does appear to be re-establishing his dominance in the White House, signaling to the media that Trump alone sets the agenda. Trump was reportedly upset with media stories — many of them dubious — that Bannon is the puppet master behind the throne.
In truth, Trump is managing several factions. A source close to Bannon said there are three or four factions. One is the populist, anti-globalist wing that Bannon represents. Senior adviser Stephen Miller is also part of this faction, which helped elect Trump as no other faction did.
There’s the traditional Republican faction, represented by Reince Priebus, the chief of staff and former Republican National Committee chair. Priebus is seen as having fumbled a number of issues, and is also seen as allowing too much infighting.
“Reince is incompetent, and that invites challenge,” the source said.
Then there’s the Cohn faction. It includes adviser Dina Powell. The Cohn faction doesn’t like Trump’s focus on bashing free trade and wants to appease Democrats on the environment.
The wild cards are Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and daughter Ivanka Trump. They really belong to no faction, the source said, and only want Trump to succeed.
A second Republican source close to the White House — one who has no particular allegiance to any of the factions — said the feud between Bannon and Trump adviser Kushner “is very real,” but a detente was forged days ago.
Why Trump mentioned the issue anew on Tuesday is anybody’s guess, the source said, but Trump was right to tell Bannon and others “to shut the hell up” and focus on work. Trump wants wins on legislation and foreign policy, and not to see stories about a chaotic work environment within the White House.
So Trump basically said again, this time through the Post, that he is the boss.
Frustration alone still doesn’t explain why Trump downplayed how valuable Bannon was during his remarkable 2016 campaign for president. It could be because Bannon has taken shots at Trump’s son-in-law, Kushner, the source said.
“When I asked the President Tuesday afternoon if he still has confidence in Bannon, who took over the campaign in mid-August, I did not get a definitive yes,” reported Michael Goodwin of the New York Post on Tuesday night.
Trump made the odd claim to Goodwin that he didn’t know Bannon until he replaced campaign manager Paul Manafort with Kellyanne Conway, and made Bannon the campaign CEO.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump told Goodwin. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist, and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
It’s unclear if Trump misspoke or forgot his timeline, because it is simply not credible that Trump “didn’t know” Bannon until the Republican primary was over in May 2016.
Bannon was previously the executive chairman of the influential Breitbart news site, which drove a lot of the coverage of Republican presidential candidates in 2015 and 2016.
Trump surely knew who Bannon was, going back to when he first announced for president in June 2015. Candidate Trump, in fact, wooed Bannon to his side early on, flying him around on his personal jet.
All of this intrigue follows the jettisoning of Bannon from the National Security Council last week, in a move that the White House said was expected. Yet Bannon’s allies were alarmed by the move.
Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, said on Monday that Trump has numerous smart and talented advisers, but “policy differences” need to be behind closed doors.
For now, however, they remain out in the open.