After Cohn, Mnuchin positions himself as the economic moderate

With President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, Mr Gary Cohn, out the door, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is working to assume the mantle of the White House's main economic voice of reason.

The former banker and Hollywood producer is intensely loyal to the president and, in his public remarks at least, has always strived to put a softer finish on Mr Trump's confrontational "America First" economic agenda.

At first, Mr Mnuchin sided with Mr Cohn in opposing Mr Trump's plans to impose punishing steel and aluminium tariffs. But he soon hewed to the president's position, under pressure from the administration's trade hawks: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and trade adviser Peter Navarro.

Mr Cohn stepped down on Tuesday, having lost the bruising battle over the direction of Mr Trump's trade policy.

As markets roiled in the wake of the tariff announcements and European leaders spoke of retaliatory trade measures, Mr Mnuchin toured television studios to deliver a message of appeasement.

"The president is not a protectionist," the Treasury Secretary told CNBC on Friday. "This is not a conventional president and because of that we're getting results we wouldn't have otherwise seen."

Mr Mnuchin pointed, for example, to Mr Trump's intensification of economic sanctions on North Korea, which the administration believes extracted Pyongyang's proposal for Mr Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un to meet.

Mr Mnuchin told Bloomberg TV the tariffs were "a natural evolution of what the president's economic policies are".

The Trump stalwart said the administration was considering "exemptions".

Mr Mnuchin's mollifying words notwithstanding, US trading partners appear no less concerned by the prospect a trade war, given that the hard-liners in the White House now have the upper hand.

"The protectionists are clearly running the show right now," Mr Brian Gardner, managing director at the investment banking firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, told The Washington Post.

"If they replaced (Mr Cohn) with another economic nationalist, then it really gets dicey for the markets and investors."

Mr Navarro, the anti-globalisation advocate with China in his crosshairs, is in line to be Trump's chief trade adviser, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Long in the shadow of Mr Cohn, the Harvard-trained economist is a tough-talking former professor who made his name with anti-Beijing diatribes. But Mr Navarro triumphed with Mr Cohn's departure.

"I don't worry about getting outmanoeuvred," he told The Wall Street Journal. "I just worry about getting things done." - AFP