Gary Cohn’s departure leaves economic nationalists in the ascendant

 In U.S.

Having stunned America’s trading partners by securing Donald Trump’s assent to steel and aluminium tariffs, the economic nationalists in the White House are chalking up a second major victory.

The resignation of Gary Cohn as the president’s top economic adviser ends the tenure of a steady and centrist influence who presided over one of the few well functioning power centres in the White House. It will leave champions of aggressive trade policies such as Peter Navarro, a trade adviser, and Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, in the ascendant as tensions with US allies escalate and the administration considers far-reaching action against China.

Mr Cohn’s impending exit following a stand-off with Mr Trump over the tariffs coincides with signs of renewed disorder in White House policymaking, with John Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, exerting less discipline on the process than in the early months of his period in the West Wing. Mr Cohn’s resignation came after what people familiar with the situation said was a breakdown in the policy process in the White House that began with the exit of Rob Porter, who as staff secretary acted as a gatekeeper to Mr Trump and chaired weekly trade policy meetings.

“We are losing a pragmatic voice. He will be sorely missed,” said one White House official. “It’s feeling more like the wild west: the system is not functioning as well as it was.”

The key question now is how aggressively Mr Trump pushes his trade agenda, with an upcoming decision on action over Chinese intellectual property theft marking a watershed moment. The decision over who will replace Mr Cohn as director of the National Economic Council is also a critical one.

Two of the contenders have starkly opposing views on trade. Officials say that Larry Kudlow, a pro-trade CNBC commentator, is in contention, as is Mr Navarro, who is close to the president and would fight for much more aggressive America First policies.

Trump’s turbulent White House

Key departures

Clockwise from top left: Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, K.T. McFarland, Steve Bannon, Hope Hicks, Rob Porter, Anthony Scaramucci, Dina Powell and Tom Price © FT montage; AP; Getty Images; Reuters

FEB 13

Mike Flynn National security adviser
Resigned after misleading the White House about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington


KT McFarland Deputy national security adviser
Nominated to become US ambassador to Singapore. Withdrew from consideration for the post in February 2018


Sean Spicer Press secretary
Stepped down as Mr Trump overhauled communications and legal team


Reince Priebus Chief of staff
Left after failure to impose discipline on the White House


Anthony Scaramucci White House communications director
Left after 10 days in the job with his tenure marked by expletive-laden interview in which criticised Mr Priebus

AUG 18

Steve Bannon Chief strategist
Departure of economic nationalist was an apparent win for globalists


Tom Price Secretary of health and human services
Resigned after criticism of his use of taxpayer-funded private jets


Dina Powell Deputy national security adviser
Left Washington to return to New York where she continued to advise president on Middle East. She has since returned to Goldman Sachs

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