White House economic adviser Gary Cohn nearly quit the administration over President Trump’s equivocations about a Nazi rally in Charlottesville, and then was denied his dream of becoming the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Now all that remains of his political dreams is a gigantic tax cut for owners of capital. But Cohn is not necessarily the most skilled messenger for this agenda, either. Having spent his career communicating to other extremely wealthy people, he seems to be at sea at the task of pretending this agenda is actually aimed at average working people, which is the essential skill set of Republican politicians.
In a new interview with John Harwood, Cohn is forced into a series of admissions he probably should not be making. He concedes the White House is not, on the whole, a fine-tuned machine:
GARY COHN: I learned a lot about being confident, about learning how to succeed. I did get introduced to the financial markets while I was in college. And I think I learned also how to sort of filter out all of the non-rational, or non-sensible noise, and sort of concentrate on what matters, and that’s really what markets are about. Separate the rational from what the irrational, separate what matters now to what doesn’t matter now.
JOHN HARWOOD: I think most people looking from the outside see more irrational stuff happening in this White House than in any White House that they’ve seen
GARY COHN: I’m involved in the economic side of the White House.
So … he’s telling us there is a lot of irrational stuff outside his purview.
While most Republicans shy away from the phrase “trickle-down,” Cohn outright embraces it:
When you take a corporate tax rate at 35% and move it to 20%, and you see what’s happened over the last two decades to businesses migrating out of the United States, migrating profits out of the United States, migrating domicile out of the United States, and hiring workers out of the United States, it’s hard for me to not imagine that they’re not going to bring businesses back to the United States. We create wage inflation, which means the workers get paid more, the workers have more disposable income, the workers spend more. And we see the whole trickle-down through the economy, and that’s good for the economy.
In other words, the plan is to give a huge tax cut to corporations on the theory that the benefits will trickle down to workers.
Cohn has previously said his plan would not give rich people a tax cut at all. (“Wealthy Americans are not getting a tax cut.”) Now his tune is a little different:
GARY COHN: You’ve got to wait till the whole plan is done and see where we finally end up, and see what the plan comes out. Everything in our tax plan is meant to encourage investment.
JOHN HARWOOD: You’re not saying, as you did a few weeks ago, that the wealthy do not get a tax cut under your plan?
GARY COHN: No. I’m saying there’s unique situations to everyone out there. Everyone has their own story. it’s not our intention to give the wealthy a tax cut.
JOHN HARWOOD: But they’re getting one.
GARY COHN: I don’t believe that we’ve set out to create a tax cut for the wealthy. If someone’s getting a tax cut, I’m not upset that they’re getting a tax cut. I’m really not upset.
Wealthy people got a tax cut after all, it happened, it was a mistake, but he’s not upset. The thing that always happens when Republicans write tax bills just happened again somehow.
Perhaps not unrelated, Cohn identifies the single group of Americans who are most enthusiastic about his plan:
GARY COHN: The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan.
This is 100 percent true.