President Donald Trump has apparently grown sick of H.R. McMaster and is preparing to jettison his national security adviser in the not-too-distant future. That news was first broken by The Washington Post on Thursday night but subsequently confirmed by CNN. It appears to now be a matter of when, not if, McMaster will leave.
What struck me most is not that firing McMaster would mean Trump is on course for three national security advisers in the space of 15-ish months – although that’s noteworthy. Instead, I was totally floored by this paragraph from the Post’s McMaster story:
“Trump is now comfortable with ousting McMaster, with whom he never personally gelled, but is willing to take time executing the move because he wants to ensure both that the three-star Army general is not humiliated and that there is a strong successor lined up.”
Ah ha! So, Trump doesn’t want to actually fire McMaster right now because he doesn’t want to humiliate him. But, Trump has clearly told enough people about his plan to get rid of McMaster – and the fact that he dislikes what he believes to be the national security adviser’s “gruff and condescending” manner – that they feel comfortable sharing this information with the media. (The Post spoke to 19 Administration officials and advisers for their story including five who confirmed the plans to fire McMaster.)
Being fired is humiliating. Knowing you are going to be fired and twisting in the wind – in a very public way – before you are fired is even worse.
Let’s say McMaster isn’t let go – and doesn’t resign – for the foreseeable future. How can he possibly be effective at his job – inside or outside the White House – given that there is this cloud looming over him? Every single person McMaster deals with will have read the stories about Trump’s plans. It will be impossible for McMaster to do anything with the President’s imprimatur on it.
All of which may well mean that McMaster resigns before he is fired. But, that doesn’t change the fact that this is no way to run a railroad.
Remember that news of McMaster’s likely ouster comes amid a week that saw Trump fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over Twitter – and let go of the undersecretary of public affairs at the State Department because he put out a statement saying Tillerson was unaware of the why he was being fired.
It’s also the same week that a bevy of Cabinet secretaries and a top staffer have been described in media reports as being on thin ice, a list that includes VA Secretary David Shulkin, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and chief of staff John Kelly.
Trump, for all of the bravado of his “you’re fired” catchphrase, has proven to be less willing to do the deed as president than everyone expects – with Tillerson being a case in point.
The McMaster move – I’m-going-to-fire-him-but-just-not-yet-or-maybe-I-will-do-it-now-or-maybe-he-will-just-quit – is another example of a distinct lack of class (and being a grown up) within this White House. Whatever you think of McMaster’s style or policy views, it’s impossible to justify leaving him hanging out to dry like this.
For a president already struggling to recruit top tier talent to join his White House, the moves on Tillerson and McMaster this week will further complicate attempts to bring in the best and brightest – or even the third best and third brightest.
If Trump would do what he did to Tillerson or embarrass McMaster so publicly, you have to wonder what he would do to a less senior official within his ranks.
That will have a further chilling effect on an administration already heavily undermanned to carry out the basic business of governance.