The sad story:
Serve Donald Trump at your own risk. Being a top aide in his administration doesn’t usually work out well.
Some former advisers, like Michael Flynn, are in legal trouble. Others, like Sean Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci, became laughing stocks. Still others have tarnished once-sterling reputations.
Gary Cohn falls into the last category. Before working for Trump, Cohn had an underdog story good enough for a best-selling book. He overcame dyslexia, talked his way into a job at Goldman Sachs and rose to the No. 2 job at the firm.
Shortly after Trump’s election, Cohn accepted a job as the top White House economic adviser. He took it, everyone seems to understand, in the hope that Trump would later name him Federal Reserve chairman. That didn’t happen.
After Trump praised white supremacists last summer, Cohn offered a lukewarm criticism that managed to fall short of courageous while also infuriating his boss. Cohn was never again a leading candidate for the Fed job, which went instead to Jerome Powell, another former banker then serving not under Trump but as a Fed official.
Over the last 14 months, Cohn has served alongside Trump as the president has refused to defend the United States against Russian attacks; continued his string of racist insults; repeatedly tried to undermine the rule of law; and, to quote former President George W. Bush, trafficked in “outright fabrication.” None of this, evidently, stirred Cohn’s conscience enough to warrant resigning on principle.
Yesterday afternoon, he finally did announce his resignation. Quietly, other administration officials signaled that it was related — sort of — to Trump’s recent announcement of tariffs, a policy that Cohn opposes. Publicly, however, he was loyal to Trump.
For the rest of Gary Cohn’s career, whenever his name comes up, people will think of Donald Trump. The relationship worked out much better for Trump than for Cohn.
In The Times, the editorial board comments on Cohn’s departure. Elsewhere: Slate’s Jordan Weissmann notes that Cohn did have one big accomplishment in the job — the corporate tax cut he helped design. “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,” Weissmann writes.
I don’t know that he will be forever tarnished with the Trump brand. He was critical of Trump and unlike others, he left on principle. It is the ones who are still there and deal with him every day that will suffer long-term humiliation.
In early February, after President Trump’s well-received State of the Union address and Davos trip, economic adviser Gary Cohn was having lunch with the president and Chief of Staff John Kelly, in the small dining room off the Oval Office.
“I’ve got to tell you. I’m working at like 20 percent of my capacity.”— Gary Cohn to President Trump, according to West Wing sources