To Man of Principle Gary Cohn, praising neo-Nazis is one thing, but a dubious steel tariff policy is going too far:
Cohn’s resignation was apparently preceded by a power struggle between him and more protectionist Trump advisers like top trade adviser Peter Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. According to Kate Kelly and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, Cohn “had warned last week that he might resign if Trump followed through with the tariffs, which Cohn had lobbied against internally.” Trump called the non-bluff, which isn’t surprising: Trump has had very few fixed views over the year, but protectionism has always been one of them.
Cohn was well aware of Trump’s penchant for economic nationalism, so it’s a little odd that this, of all things, was what pushed him to his breaking point. Personally, I would be more offended by, say, Trump firing the FBI director to obstruct the investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russian interference into the 2016 election, or his travel ban plainly targeted at Muslims, or his assertion that some of the neo-Nazi protestors in Charlottesville were “very fine people.”
Of course, I never would have joined the administration of an unprecedentedly corrupt and dishonest president who began his ascension within the Republican Party by popularizing the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born in Africa, and started his nomination campaign by referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” It’s always been clear that nobody who goes to work for Trump is going to come out looking better. But having swallowed that, some import tariffs are what’s going to compel you to leave? It’s instructive to know what Cohn’s highest priorities are, at least.
While tariffs would be pretty far down on the list of Trump actions that would compel me to submit my resignation, that’s not to say they’re good policy. You don’t have to be a doctrinaire free-trader to doubt the merit of this decision. As Annie Lowrey of The Atlantic observes, while many experts agree that the U.S. “faces unfair competition and artificially low prices that have damaged the domestic steel industry,” they generally doubt that “a tariff is the right approach for addressing the problem.”