Gary, Dina, and the Shadow of Government Sachs

steve mnuchin, gary cohn, wilbur ross
Would Wall Streeters like Steve Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, and Wilbur Ross team up with Trump again? Photo: Jabin Botsford/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
September 11, 2022

The alarming possibility of Donald Trump returning to the White House raises a number of profound questions, not least among them what support, if any, he might find on Wall Street if ever he manages to retake the presidency. Trump, of course, was always disdained by New York’s elite moneymen, and he found ways to repeatedly burn quite a few big banks—among them, Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Chase Manhattan and UBS—over the years. Still, there is nothing that Wall Street’s top bankers like more than to imagine themselves in Washington—the icing on the cake of their fabulous careers. When Trump was improbably elected, in 2016, a number of highly pedigreed and otherwise respectable Wall Streeters—Gary Cohn, Dina Powell, Jay Clayton, Jim Donovan, Wilbur Ross—appeared to set aside any misgivings about him to claim a seat at the power table. Most except for Steve Mnuchin and Ross fled long before Trump’s term came to a chaotic and violent end. Would any of them return?

Having some insight into their thinking, allow me to venture a guess. Let’s start with Gary Cohn, who worked in the White House for some 14 months. I suspect Gary, who is a Democrat, is very much done with Trump, and vice-versa. In fact, I put the chances of a return engagement at zero on both sides of that transaction. Gary went to work for Trump for two reasons: first, it’s hard to say no to a president who asks you to be his (or her) national economic advisor, especially if you were the number two executive at Goldman Sachs, which has a long and proud tradition of its executives decamping to high government positions; and second, Gary needed a job. Gary had long openly coveted becoming the next C.E.O. of Goldman, and he had just come off an unsuccessful power play at Goldman to try to succeed his boss, Lloyd Blankfein, who had taken over for Hank Paulson in 2006 and wasn’t yet ready to relinquish the throne. (Blankfein was battling cancer at the time. He is now cancer free.) But he bet wrong and the Goldman board ushered Gary to the door. What better way for Gary to show up his Goldman brethren than to go work for Trump in a plum post that no one in their right mind thought he had a chance to ever obtain? (He was introduced to Trump by his buddy Jared Kushner.)