Inside the White House, Bannon has at times clashed with Cohn and Kushner and has advocated for more strident positions. Cohn's rising influence has already attracted attacks from Bannon allies, and Kushner has drawn negative attention from conservative blogs. Several Trump campaign veterans have lambasted Cohn's influence in the White House. "He would be an Obama appointee at best," one longtime adviser said.
Whether Trump will be willing to modulate significantly from the scorched-earth strategy that won him the White House, and whether he wants more discipline in the White House, remains unclear. What has attracted him to much of his base is railing against trade deals that Wall Street executives like, building a massive border wall and implementing stricter immigration policies that they don't like. And he often avoids even the best-crafted advice by firing off an errant tweet.
Another executive said a summit last week with CEOs created good feelings about the White House, but some of that changed later in the week when Cohn suggested he would support separating investment and retail banking on Wall Street, something big banks strongly oppose.
“Yes, everyone left that meeting feeling good about the White House and the agenda and then we wake up on Thursday and Gary is saying he wants to break us up,” the executive said. “It could be that he sort of backed into it because it was in the Republican platform and that nothing will happen with it, but it still bothered people.”
This executive also said it was too soon to suggest Trump would really back away from ripping up existing trade deals or slapping tariffs on Mexico, China or other nations the president views as unfair competitors. “Trade in this administration is very complicated and there are so many players with different agendas jockeying for position,” the executive said.
Still, corporate executives who have attended White House meetings say they are becoming increasingly confident that Cohn, along with Kushner and senior White House adviser Dina Powell, also a former Goldman executive, have for the moment at least neutralized Trump’s more aggressively nationalistic advisers including Bannon and senior aide Stephen Miller. Cohn has become Trump's preferred adviser as of late, several people say, as Bannon has faded.
And some business leaders are convinced the White House will change, “or look totally different in six months,” as one business executive said.
One senior White House official noted the quickly executed Syria action as an example of the administration operating at a higher professional level and said it should give the outside world, including corporate America, confidence about improvements in West Wing functioning.
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