Treasury secretary Stephen Mnuchin, who is not interested in solar eclipses because he’s from New York, has proven to be such an ineffective promoter of the Republican tax plan that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has told the White House to stop sending him to Capitol Hill, Politico reported on Saturday. And National Economic Council director Gary Cohn isn’t seen as a much better salesman.
While Ryan has praised Mnuchin’s “ability to improve the legislation itself,” he has had “testy conversations” with the secretary, who has come off as “arrogant” in his approach to Congress, according to a source. Mnuchin has also made questionable decisions that have made the already difficult job of selling an unpopular bill even harder.
The Politico piece cites the recent, instantly notorious photo op in which Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton — best known for fighting with a civilian in Instagram comments — struck their best evil-oligarch poses in front of a fresh sheet of dollar bills, sparking a healthy amount of ridicule.
(Mnuchin deflected the criticism as only a film producer could, telling Fox News, “I guess I should take that as a compliment, that I look like a villain in a great, successful James Bond movie.”)
Cohn, meanwhile, has endured his own share of missteps, from boasting that “the most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan” to suggesting that the average American could buy a new car with the $1,000 they could expect if the plan passes.
Mnuchin and Cohn, both former Goldman Sachs executives, are like Wall Street caricatures: brash, unapologetically plutocratic, morally flexible — and they contradict every facet of the faux-populism Trump ran on. (Mnuchin has proven to be a surprisingly enthusiastic culture warrior, too, defending Trump on everything from his Charlottesville comments to his stance on NFL protests.)
In that way, they are actually a perfect representation of the ethos behind the tax plan, which is, to an almost comical extent, an enormous giveaway to the very richest Americans.
What they aren’t is smooth. With his amiable mien and midwestern lilt, Paul Ryan has cultivated a reputation as a policy “wonk,” even as he advocates for radical cuts to the social safety net and handouts to the Über-wealthy. Ryan’s reputation may finally be on the wane, however; the tax bill he so cherishes is almost as unpopular as the GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts, and he is now loathed on both the left and right. But he would never do something as outwardly crass as pose in front of a sheet of money.
The Republican tax plan is policy malpractice. But getting Mnuchin and Cohn to sell it is political malpractice to boot.