The first thought I had when reading the passage below was of Trump’s infamous photo op with Merkel in the Oval Office in March. People marveled at the time that Trump wouldn’t shake hands with her for the cameras, but it was worse than that — he conspicuously refused to so much as look at her. That’s how badly their first closed-door meeting went.
So yeah, there’s reason to believe that POTUS really does avert his gaze in contempt when he’s especially PO’d at someone.
The new chief of staff has tried to shield Gary D. Cohn, the chairman of the National Economic Council, from Mr. Trump’s continuing wrath since the former Goldman Sachs executive went public with his disgust at the president’s response to the deadly violence last month in Charlottesville, Va…
But he has not always been successful. Several aides said Mr. Trump is freezing out Mr. Cohn by employing a familiar tactic: refusing to make eye contact with Mr. Cohn when his adviser greets him.
At a meeting on Thursday on infrastructure at the White House with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and members of Congress from New York and New Jersey, Mr. Kelly told participants that Mr. Cohn would lead the meeting. But Mr. Trump, whose most cutting insult is to pretend someone does not exist or that he barely knows them, virtually ignored him.
I don’t know how Cohn resists quitting. It’s one thing for your boss to be mad at you, it’s another thing for him to be mad at you for being mad at him for, of all things, not criticizing white supremacists more unequivocally. Imagine being made to feel demeaned by someone whom you’re mad at for not being harder on Nazis. But this is what Cohn signed up for, I guess. And in his unhappiness, he crossed a line that Trump deputies must never cross: He made it public, chattering about it to the Financial Times. As Steve Bannon said to “60 Minutes,” Trump can accept being rebuked privately. But public insubordination? Big trouble.
And now the Gary Cohn White House death watch is on:
Several sources said Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, had long planned to stay in his post for at least a year. But one source said concern had grown among Cohn’s allies over the past 24 hours that he might be pressured to leave.
The recent concerns stem from a report in the Wall Street Journal – confirmed by other news media, including Reuters – that Cohn was unlikely to be nominated by Trump as a potential successor to Fed Chair Janet Yellen.
Cohn has been eyeing Yellen’s seat for months. Supposedly it’s the chief reason he agreed to work in the White House for a president whose nationalist impulses on things like immigration don’t match up with his own. If he’s now a dark horse for Fed chair and if POTUS won’t so much as *look at him*, why not resign?
“New York friends say Cohn does not want to leave the Trump administration with nothing to show for his tenure,” claims Politico, pointing to Cohn’s interest in seeing tax reform through. Maybe. Maybe it’s ambition that’s driving him, or maybe he has the same basic sense of patriotic duty as Mattis, Kelly, Tillerson, and other Trump deputies who aren’t thrilled with the way the president operates but feel obliged for the country’s sake to tolerate any indignities and keep plugging. Cohn may also see tax reform as his path back to Trump’s good graces and the Fed chairmanship, though: If he can deliver a major legislative win for the White House, Trump may forget about the Charlottesville friction and view him as a valuable ally potentially at the Fed. One need look no further than Jeff Sessions to see how quickly a disfavored advisor can resume a position of power in Trump’s administration. A few weeks ago he was POTUS’s whipping boy on Twitter with one foot out the door at Justice. A few days ago he was announcing the White House’s wind-down of the DACA program, one of the biggest policy moves Trump has made to date. Cohn needs to hunker down and ride out Hurricane Donald’s wrath. It’ll do damage, but it’ll pass.
There’s another important reason for Cohn to stick around. Politico reports that he’s “in a great mood” and “highflying” ever since Trump and Chuck Schumer started bro-hugging each other a few days ago. That makes sense, as Cohn has known Schumer for years and to all appearances is a Democrat himself, as Steve Bannon enjoys reminding people. If this really is the start of a new centrist Trump 2.0 who’s prepared to deal with Schumer and Pelosi on left-ish projects like infrastructure and the DREAM Act, obviously Cohn would want to be part of that. He’ll be in a prime position to influence a president who’s newly open to liberal policy initiatives. If he becomes a key go-between for Trump and Schumer, he might end up with that Fed position after all. It’d be bananas for a “globalist” to bail out of the White House just weeks after Bannon got the boot and Trump appears to be taking a globalist turn himself.
But it’s not entirely up to Cohn. Trump could always fire him — in theory. As I sit here and think about it, though, I can’t think of a single case of Trump firing or hiring someone over John Kelly’s objection since Kelly became chief of staff in July. The general appears to have almost total control over personnel now. Obviously there are a select few people who couldn’t be sent packing without POTUS’s approval, like Jared and Ivanka, but consider all of the big names who’ve been purged in just six weeks or so. Scaramucci was gone after 10 days at Kelly’s insistence; Bannon, Trump’s link to his populist base, followed last month; Sheriff David Clarke, who’d apparently been hoping to join the White House, has been relegated to a Super PAC instead at Kelly’s urging. Meanwhile, imperiled aides like Sessions and H.R. McMaster have been protected, with McMaster finally gaining the power to fire disfavored advisors like Ezra Cohen-Watnick that they lacked before. If Kelly wants Cohn to stay in the White House and Cohn wants to stay (for the time being), Trump might feel obliged to grudgingly go along. At least until he gets sick of Kelly and fires him, of course.