The revolving door at the White House has gotten quite the workout since Donald Trump took office in January. It took fewer than 17 days for the first major player, General Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s National Security Advisor to hear the words “You’re fired.” Since then the administration has been hemorrhaging staff faster than they can be replaced. Communications Directors, Press Secretaries, the Chief of Staff were just a few to be let go by a president who is floundering in his job.
Last week, the first Cabinet member Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price left under a cloud of misuse of taxpayer money to pay for trips using government private jets. But that was not his only mistake. Not only was he unable to get any healthcare legislation through Congress, he committed the unpardonable sin of generating bad press for Donald Trump. In fact, he got MORE bad press than Donald Trump, which was probably the last straw. Last week the over/under on who would be the next to go was on Veteran Affairs Secretary Sheklin who had his own “bad optics” regarding using government planes for personal travel. But this week the focus has shifted.
Trump sent out early warning signals on Twitter last week.
…Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
There’s no precedent in U.S. history to having a Secretary of State being given his marching orders in public. Not only that, he effectively undercut any negotiations that Tillerson may have been engaged in. This may be considered just as Trump being Trump, but bear in mind that he has a history of saying someone is “wonderful” or a “really good person” before giving them the ax.
But the news this morning may be the final straw for Tillerson’s stay as Secretary of State. NBC News reports that back in the summer Tillerson called Trump “a moron” and was seriously considering resigning. There are additional reports that the actual term Tillerson used was “a f*****ng moron.” No matter which term he used, this story is certainly dominating the news cycle today, overshadowing Trump’s visit to Las Vegas. In the Trump White House, that is the ultimate sin. In fact, the terms #Rex Tillerson and #Secretary of State Tillerson are now trending on Twitter.
Which would explain Trump’s tweet earlier this morning for those who might be confused:
NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN. They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2017
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2017
Well, not exactly Mr. Trump. In a brief public appearance this morning what Tillerson actually said was:
“I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that. This is what I don’t understand about Washington.”
Totally refuted? Not even slightly refuted. More like a “refused to deny” it.
Tillerson has come under severe criticism for his management of the Department of State. Many critical positions, especially Under Secretaries of State for various areas, as well as key ambassadorial positions have not been filled nine months into the administration. Yes, Trump did appoint his good buddy Woody Johnson, the owner of the NFL football team the New York Jets to be the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James (that’s the United Kingdom to the rest of us); Calista Gingrich as our ambassador to the Holy See (the Vatican) and most recently Jon Huntsman as Ambassador to Russia. But there is still no ambassador to South Korea, which is in the crosshairs of the ongoing battle of words between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung UN.ju
As Trump immediately accepted all the resignations of currently serving ambassadors, most of our embassies around the world are currently being staffed and run by career foreign service diplomats. That is fine until a serious crisis or threat erupts in that country. Again, see South Korea. The shortage of seasoned foreign service experts within the State Department itself is a crisis in and of itself.
NBC also reported that Tillerson was considering resigning just a few months ago, and there has been serious speculation among DC pundits that he was going to wait it out until January, 2018 before leaving. He may not make it until then. The question now seems to be – will he make it until this Friday? Whether he resigns or is fired, that will leave Trump with three Cabinet level positions open – Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of State.
Trump also faces an increasingly hostile Senate which might not bow to his wishes and routinely approve his appointments to fill these essential positions. As Trump becomes more and more isolated a White House where he has fewer people who have his trust, he might think he can run the government without filling those positions. But the United States is not a privately held family business. And try as he might. Trump cannot effectively run it like one.
Another problem Trump is likely facing is that there are fewer and fewer qualified people who want to be associated with a Trump administration. For that, Trump has only himself to blame. Not that he will. Because nothing is ever his fault.