During his joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, President Donald Trump wanted to make two things very clear in regard to his embattled Veteran Affairs nominee, Ronny Jackson:
- Jackson is a terrific guy, a great physician and everyone likes him and Trump is totally behind him.
- Jackson needs to step aside.
Notice anything strange about those two messages? Yes – they are in total and complete contradiction! Congrats!
What Trump was trying to do in his news conference with Macron was to have his cake and eat it too.
A senior administration official told CNN Tuesday that Jackson is not planning to withdraw his nomination as of now. The White House feels Jackson is being “railroaded” and will push back forcefully, the official said, and insisted that Trump is not wobbling over his selection.
But the President’s public statements say otherwise. On the one hand, Trump wants everyone to know he is 100% behind Jackson – and that the only reason Jackson’s nomination is foundering is because the Democrats on Capitol Hill are always and forever trying to score political points.
“He’s an admiral, he’s a great leader, and they question him for every little thing,” said Trump.
Jackson’s problems – whistleblowers have made allegations to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee regarding excessive drinking by Jackson and a negative work environment under his leadership, according to two former White House medical staff members – have nothing to do with the fact that Trump picked Jackson literally out of the blue, without seriously vetting him or game-planning how a nomination fight might play out.
To admit that would mean Trump made a bad choice, an error in judgment. And Trump doesn’t do admitting errors.
At the same time, Trump seems to want Jackson gone. Sooner rather than later. And he wanted to make sure Jackson got that message loud and clear.
“I told Admiral Jackson just a little while ago, what do you need this for?” Trump said of his conversation with the White House physician. “This is a vicious group of people, they malign … what do you need it for?”
In case there was still any doubt about what path Trump wants Jackson to take, the President noted that “I don’t want to put a man through a process like this. It’s too ugly and too disgusting. … If I were him, I wouldn’t do it.”
Put yourself in Jackson’s shoes. Your hiring has run into some major hurdles regarding your last job. Your new boss makes a public statement that if he were you, he would step aside. What do you think you would take from that? Right.
Trump did everything but hold Jackson’s hand as he wrote the letter announcing that he doesn’t want to be a distraction to a President and a country he believes deeply in – and all that.
This was Trump giving Jackson – and himself – an out. Jackson can now bow out somewhat gracefully, saying the political partisanship exhibited by Democrats was simply not something he was willing to put his family through. Trump can graciously accept Jackson’s decision – seizing on those terrible Democrats who won’t let a “fine man” like Dr. Jackson serve.
That, of course, isn’t the real story here. What will almost certainly end Jackson’s nomination is not Democrats but Republicans who were initially skeptical of Trump’s surprise nomination of the White House physician to run the VA and who only grew more openly suspicious once these allegations about Jackson’s past conduct came to light.
The takeaway is that Trump’s lack of concern with vetting, coupled with his desire to surround himself with people he likes, leads to situations like this one with Jackson. And that’s nobody’s fault but Trump’s.