Peter Navarro, the ascendant, unapologetically protectionist trade adviser to President Donald Trump, is gunning for Gary Cohn’s soon-to-be old job, and has been calling Republican operatives and right-wing media personalities to “rally the MAGA troops,” according to a GOP source.
On Tuesday night, The New York Times first reported that Cohn, Trump’s National Economic Council director, would soon be leaving the administration, having found himself on the losing side of a rift over tariffs and trade wars. These are tariffs and nationalist trade tactics that the president and Navarro have vocally support, and impulses that Cohn had failed to extinguish in the White House.
Cohn and many other senior officials have warned internally that if Navarro—widely credited for being a top cheerleader to Trump’s desired crackdown on foreign steel and aluminum imports—were Cohn’s successor, it would be an unmitigated disaster and nudge the world closer to the brink of economic havoc.
In public, Navarro has insisted that he is not in the running to replace Cohn, his free-trader, “globalist” foe. In the 24 hours directly following the news of Cohn being on the outs, however, Navarro had already placed phone calls to several allies and potential allies, gauging what kind of support he had on the outside and in Trump-world at large.
The main idea, according to those who spoke with him, was to see who outside of the administration (some of whom have the president’s ear) would have his back, and who would be willing to go on cable news (the kind of shows Trump can’t get enough of) and say favorable things about Navarro and his policies, right around the time Navarro is gunning for Cohn’s old post.
Due to internal resistance and a relatively crowded field of frontrunners for the job, Navarro’s chances of landing Cohn’s director gig are pretty slim. But Navarro, per to his associates, wants to build up a base of external support and influence to help preserve and positively spin his reinvigorated position within President Trump’s inner circle—even if his job title doesn’t change.
Several people in conservative media circles and Republican politics who spoke to Navarro recently told The Daily Beast that he has also been seeking purely political advice.
“He doesn’t really know what he’s doing,” said one GOP operative close to the White House, referring to Navarro’s “amateur-ish” nature in handling the palace intrigue and aggressive leaking to the press that are a hallmark of the Trump era.
“He’s not an experienced knife-fighter,” the source added.
Navarro allies across the board acknowledge that he doesn’t have the chops yet to forcefully combat or indulge in this sort of palace intrigue that eventually helped take down Steve Bannon, Trump’s ousted chief strategist (and Navarro’s ideological ally on trade policy and China) who has since become a Trump-world exile.
And according to two sources familiar with the matter, one of the people Navarro promptly reached out to to confide in, shortly after news of Cohn’s departure, was Bannon, who at the time was on a Euro-trip supporting insurgent far-right political candidates and figures. During his time in the West Wing, Bannon had bitterly feuded with senior administration officials such as Cohn.
Both Navarro and Bannon (neither of whom responded to requests to comment on this story) believe that Cohn and his ilk are actively derailing a populist-nationalist Trump agenda. And last week, Cohn officially threw in the towel. Navarro—no longer the sidelined Trump trade adviser he once was—remains at the side of a president whose instincts on protectionist trade policies have intersected with Navarro’s for years, if not decades.
“President Trump simply will not tolerate [unfair trade deals], and as a candidate, he ran on the platform, and as president, he’s taking firm steps across a wide range of activities to make sure that the American people are defended against these unfair practices,” Navarro said on a radio show for Breitbart—Bannon’s former media flagship—just three days before Cohn’s resignation became public.