When the pandemic hit, the task of saving the economy was an opportunity for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to transform himself from an unremarkable Treasury secretary into a national hero.
Mr. Mnuchin, a former banker and film financier, sought advice from his former Goldman Sachs colleagues, a cable-TV host, a Hollywood superagent, a disgraced Wall Street tycoon and Newt Gingrich. Unburdened by his own ideology and with a detail-disoriented boss, Mr. Mnuchin worked with Democrats to devise and pass the landmark stimulus bill.
Afterward, President Trump hailed Mr. Mnuchin as a “great” Treasury secretary and “fantastic guy.”
The acclaim didn’t last.
Mr. Mnuchin is the rare cabinet secretary who does not seem to have strong political beliefs. He offers opinions when asked, even when he knows Mr. Trump will disagree, and then executes whatever the president decides. He appears to have little stake in particular outcomes. Does he agree or disagree with Mr. Trump’s stance on a given issue? In Mr. Mnuchin’s view, that is irrelevant. He is there to follow orders.
Mr. Mnuchin is a self-proclaimed micromanager. Career members of the tax policy staff rarely met with Treasury secretaries in previous administrations; they are regularly called to brief Mr. Mnuchin. On March 2, as financial markets were in upheaval, Mr. Mnuchin held a one-hour meeting about the “grain glitch,” a technical wrinkle in the 2017 tax law.
Until the second week of March, Mr. Mnuchin, like most people in the Trump administration, regarded the coronavirus as a minor threat to the U.S. economy. But then, as investors panicked, he shifted into crisis mode.