The source of Bannon’s power was largely political. He devised for Trump the public spectacles, such as the aborted nafta announcement, that kept Trump’s base excited and engaged. But Bannon didn’t have a policy staff, had few reliable ideological allies in Congress, and was rarely interested in policy ideas that didn’t connect with the base on some emotional level.
By comparison, the source of Cohn’s power in the White House was and is structural. As the director of the N.E.C., he oversaw a White House office that Bill Clinton created in 1993 to treat economic policy with the same level of staff support and rigor as foreign policy was given by the National Security Council. When Cohn agreed to come work for Trump, he made Trump promise him that all economic policy would run through him, according to another senior White House official. “The N.E.C. is an organization that is all new,” the official said. “There are no career people in the N.E.C.” The official pointed out the broad range of issues under Cohn’s purview: “Taxes, financial regulation, financial policy, financial reform, energy—both global energy, domestic energy—environment, trade, health care, agricultural, tech, telecom, cyber. So anything that really affects the U.S. economy and is going to have impact on economic growth, job creation, trade, global relationships, runs through the N.E.C.”