By Tory Newmyer
March 15, 2017

Goldman Sachs just expanded its beachhead inside the Trump administration. The president on Tuesday announced he’s tapping Jim Donovan, a managing director at the firm, to serve as deputy Treasury secretary. That would make Donovan the fifth Goldman alum to join the senior ranks of his team — a concentration that the president’s critics point to as a betrayal of his campaign pledges to curb Wall Street excesses, in part by targeting Goldman’s political muscle.

But the roster of onetime Goldman honchos now populating the administration comes with a giant asterisk, and it hangs over the name of Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon. The rumpled consigliere worked in mergers and acquisitions at the bank in the late 1980s and has wandered widely since. Whatever formative impact that experience had on the then-young Harvard Business School graduate was unraveled, finally, by the financial crisis. The stock market crash in late 2008 wiped out the retirement savings of Bannon’s father, a lifelong AT&T worker. By Bannon’s own account, watching the banks that precipitated the collapse get bailed out while no such help came for his father hardened him into a populist firebrand. “Everything since then has come from there,” Bannon told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. “All of it.”

He now leads an axis in the West Wing directly opposed to the worldview advanced by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council chairman Gary Cohn, fellow Goldman veterans. Where they represent a cosmopolitan, corporate-friendly globalism, Bannon is agitating for closed borders, reversing the tide of international economic integration, cracking down on Wall Street, and confronting radical Islamism. His fingerprints are on the dark language of Trump’s inaugural address and the travel ban that roiled the opening act of his presidency.

It’s not clear, however, whether Bannon has a decisive advantage shaping Trump’s approach. Investors insist the Trump era spells good news for the industry that earned Bannon’s enmity, with large-cap bank stocks continuing to outpace the market rally, in part on expectations of regulatory rollbacks (though a Dodd-Frank repeal has nearly fallen off the priority list). And fears that Trump, channeling Bannon’s protectionist instincts, would start a trade war with an important economic ally have so far gone unrealized (though the president iced the massive Pacific Rim trade pact as one of his first acts). In the near term, tax reform could provide the best signal yet of how Trump is inclined. Bannon favors a border adjustment tax pushed by Speaker Paul Ryan that would impose a steep levy on imports; Mnuchin and Cohn, by all accounts, do not. In the meantime, as Trump keeps staffing up, the résumés of his top aides obscure the organizing struggle behind the throne, pitting one Goldman alum against the rest.

Tory Newmyer


You May Like