First Steve Mnuchin at Treasury, now this. Trump’s two top fiscal officers may end up being Goldman Sachs alums, one of them among the biggest cheeses at the firm. This, after months of calling Ted Cruz a Wall Street puppet because he’s married to a Goldman employee and had a small margin loan from the bank. And this, despite Trump’s most darkly memorable speech of the campaign having accused Hillary Clinton of selling out average Americans to “international banks.” Footage of Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein even ended up in Trump’s “closing argument” ad as visual shorthand of the evil forces of finance who were pulling Clinton’s strings.
For the first and probably last time in my life, I’m interested in hearing what Trump’s friend Alex Jones thinks of all this.
President-elect Donald Trump is considering Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn for a senior administration job, possibly as director of the Office of Management and Budget, several sources close to the situation said on Wednesday.
People familiar with the matter say Cohn’s meeting with Trump on Tuesday included talks about a potential job in the new administration, possibly to run OMB, a sprawling office that will handle much of Trump’s budget policy after he takes office in January…
People close to Cohn, an aggressive and imposing trading veteran, note that he has a reputation for attracting and managing top talent, a key attribute for any OMB chief.
He’s a registered Democrat but has donated to, and is “friendly” with, members of both parties, which is true to form for Wall Street. Big question now: How many Goldman veterans will be too many for Trump fans? Steve Bannon is immunized from his Goldman pedigree due to his ardent populism; Mnuchin is partly immunized from his own Goldman service because he was, after all, finance chairman of Trump’s winning populist campaign, although a few eyebrows are bound to rise once the media starts to revisit Mnuchin’s work for, among others, George Soros in foreclosing on homes. How does Trump sell Cohn to his base, though? Cohn wasn’t part of the campaign and he’s no minor player at Goldman. He’s the president. Given Trump’s attacks on “the system” for the past 18 months and his more recent focus on international finance as a sinister force behind Clinton, him bringing the top guy at Goldman Sachs in to head OMB is a bit like Reagan circa 1980 staffing up with Ted Kennedy. It should be a political problem for him. Toss in the fact that Democratic billionaire Wilbur Ross is on tap to head Commerce and billionaire Ricketts family heir Todd Ricketts is set to be deputy secretary of that department and “the swamp” seems to be filling up quicker than Trump can drain it.
Will these picks be a political problem for him, though? I think Trumpers will divide into three groups. The hardcore devotees, the sort of people who waited on line for hours for his rallies and happily told reporters there was nothing Trump could do to lose their votes, will accept anything he does. A second faction, while not quite willing to back Trump unconditionally, nonetheless buys his logic that “the system” can only be reformed by someone who knows it well enough to have gamed it successfully. That logic is how he managed to get away with multiple corporate bankruptcies, thousands of dollars in donations to Democrats, and other sins that otherwise would have wrecked his right-wing populist credibility. I was just playing the game, Trump insisted, outmaneuvering the elites using their own rules. Enough people bought it to make him president; in theory, the Mnuchin/Cohn/Ross/Ricketts picks could be shoehorned into the same point, that they know the system really well from the inside and are thus well positioned to overhaul it. And then there’s probably a third group that is skeptical of these picks but can be pacified for now on the theory that Trump is staffing up with the “bad guys” deliberately for the purpose of coopting them. In this scenario he’s Clarice Starling and Cohn is Hannibal Lecter; if you want to stop a criminal, who better to seek advice from than someone with a criminal mind himself? If nothing else, this theory will claim, having so many Wall Street luminaries on his team should make Trump’s populist policies more tolerable to the banks and encourage them to buy into reform. In that sense it’s a bit like Trump eyeing supreme Republican establishmentarian Mitt Romney as his point man on foreign policy. If you’re looking to get mainstream Republicans to accept rapprochement with Putin, who better to sell it than the guy who once said Russia is our number one geopolitical foe?
The only staple of Trump’s base that might actually punish him for this is the alt-right, which has its own political identity distinct from Trump’s and thus an incentive to assert its independence when he strays too far from their brand of populist nationalism. Most of the right will happily go along, though, Trumpers because they trust that the great man has his reasons in making appointments like these and the rest of the GOP because they worry above all about Trump doing wacky things in office. And, whatever else these picks may be, they’re at least not wacky.
Here’s Trump’s “closing argument” ad, released long ago when he seemed prepared to wage war on American finance’s grip on government. And by “long ago,” I mean 24 days ago. The bald guy with the goatee at the Clinton Global Initiative podium seen at 1:14 is Lloyd Blankfein.