Trump’s top economic adviser departs, and the administration’s grown-ups worry.
Mr. Trump’s washing-machine and solar-panel salvo was to be followed by a focus on China’s unfair trade practices, namely intellectual-property theft. The president would announce narrowly targeted trade actions against that country, while holding aluminum and steel tariffs in reserve. All this would be choreographed around renegotiation of the North American and Korea-U.S. free trade agreements.
.. Mr. Ross took advantage of the situation last week to get the president’s ear, and back we were to the days of Mr. Trump spinning out on the advice of the last person in the room.
.. few know that he spent this past weekend talking the president down from an even more Planet Mars idea from Team Ross —to set tariffs closer to 50%.
.. Mr. Ross (a former steel executive) and the nativist Peter Navarro have driven out their biggest free-market opponent, increasing their ability to wreak harm on the economy.
The voices of those who actually understand economic policy are greatly diminished, as evidenced this week by the administration’s endless loop of fact-free and near fantastical claims about the effects of the tariffs.
His shabby treatment has more than a few of the grown-ups now actively considering their own exit plans. It’s one thing to do battle daily; it’s another to watch months of work get flushed on a whim, and get publicly branded a “globalist” to boot. Mr. Cohn’s top deputy, Jeremy Katz, departed just as soon as the tax deal passed, and watch for other Cohn staffers—many of them important free-market voices—to follow.
.. Imagine a Trump presidency without Mr. Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, Don McGahn, Mick Mulvaney, Kevin Hassett. Consider, too, that no one as good is likely to replace them—now having seen how the White House works.
And don’t forget congressional Republicans, whom Mr. Trump has potentially set up for a midterm rout.
Many are furious that he has forced them to call him out, splitting the party. But they are also legitimately fearful the tariffs will spark trade war and destroy tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs, neutralizing the benefits of the hard-won tax reform.
The economy is the best thing Republicans have going for them in November, and the Trump-Ross-Navarro trio just embraced the only policy that could kill it.
Just how bad it is will depend hugely on Mr. Cohn’s successor.
.. Besides, who in his right mind would even want the job?
2008 and the years just after (the crash and the weak recovery) had changed everything in America, and that the country was going to choose, in coming decades, one of two paths—a moderate populism or socialism—and that the former was vastly to be preferred, for reasons of the nation’s health.
.. Undergirding my thinking is the sense that a big bad day is coming—that we have too many enemies, and some of them have the talent to hurt us, and one or more inevitably will.
.. our country is stressed to the point of fracture culturally, economically, politically, spiritually. We find it hard to hold together on a peaceful day, never mind a violent one.
.. The priority is stabilizing and strengthening what we have, and encouraging wherever possible an atmosphere of peacefulness and respect.
.. This Thursday he may have launched a Republican civil war: The Freedom Caucus had better “get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & the Dems, in 2018!” That will help promote harmony.
.. Mr. Trump revealed that he has no deep knowledge of who his base is, who his people are. I’ve never seen that in politics. But Mr. Trump’s supporters didn’t like the bill. If they had wanted a Republican president who deals only with the right, to produce a rightist bill, they would have chosen Ted Cruz.
.. I had worked in a White House. I had personally observed its deeper realities and requirements. Their sense of how a White House works came from news shows and reading, and also from TV shows such as “House of Cards” and “Scandal.” Those are dark, cynical shows that more or less suggest anyone can be president.
Crisis reveals the character, the essential nature of a White House. Seventy days in, that is my worry.
More than that, though, Trump’s inability to unite Republicans behind his health-care bill showed Democrats that they don’t have to make a deal with him out of fear of him making an extremely conservative deal with the House Freedom Caucus. It turns out he can’t make a deal with them at all. Kind of makes it hard to play the two sides off against each other.
.. Republicans want to give private-sector companies tax credits for building approved projects, which they then could charge people to use. Think toll roads, except for everything. Democrats, meanwhile, want the government to take advantage of its still historically low borrowing costs to build whatever we need itself. They’re afraid that tax credits would only fund the most profitable projects, not the most necessary ones; that they’d mostly be a windfall for projects that were already going to happen, not promote new ones; and that the money would go to people close to Trump ..
.. Why turn him into the winning winner he ran as, who alone possesses the ability to break through the gridlock of Washington, when they can keep him as the losing loser he’s governed as, who can’t even get a bill through one chamber of Congress his party controls? They won’t, at least not on terms that are remotely acceptable to Republicans.
.. That’s what happens when everyone knows you can’t afford to walk away from the negotiating table, say, because you have a 36 percent approval rating. Nobody will be afraid of your threats, everybody will call your bluff, and you will cave to whatever they want.