On Tuesday morning, the White House announced that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton would hold a press briefing this afternoon. Ninety minutes before that press briefing was scheduled, President Donald Trump fired Bolton.
“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” tweeted Trump. “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.”
That tweet from Trump also came less than 24 hours after he sent this one: “The Dishonest Media likes to create the look of turmoil in the White House, of which there is none.”
Within moments of Trump’s firing by tweet, Bolton shot back with this: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’” And CNN’s Jim Acosta reports that national security officials and White House staff learned about Bolton’s firing at the same time we all did – when Trump tweeted about it.
Which, of course they did! The firing of Bolton is simply the latest example of the totally and completely haphazard nature of Trump’s presidency. There is no broader strategy. There is no blueprint. There is just Donald Trump, producing and starring in a reality show that starts over every single morning.
In the wake of the 2016 election, it became fashionable – particularly among the President and his allies – to argue that they knew he was going to win all along, that the President-elect was playing three-dimensional chess while the media and Democrats were still playing checkers. He won and you all said he was going to lose! But we knew better!
Here’s the thing: They didn’t know better. Trump reportedly didn’t even have a victory speech written because, well, he and the rest of his team didn’t believe he had a chance at winning. (Sidebar: That doesn’t take away the remarkableness of his victory. It was – and is – the greatest upset in modern political history.) There was no grand plan against which he was executing. There was – and is – just Trump, saying and doing stuff and then reacting to the reaction his moves create.
This isn’t even up for debate anymore. If firing Bolton was anything other than a Trump impulse move, why would the White House include Bolton in a briefing with two other top administration officials today? Why would Bolton immediately come out and dispute Trump’s version of how the firing came about? Why would no one else in the White House or the national security apparatus have an inkling that this move was coming?
Whether you love Trump or hate him, it’s impossible to conclude anything other than Trump fired Bolton on a whim – or in a pique of annoyance at Bolton’s hawkish tendencies.
That last point is also an important proof point of how Trump just does things and then tries to reverse engineer some sort of plan. Bolton had built a career on his neo-conservative hawkishness. Trump had run and won on a quasi-protectionist approach, insisting that the United States, for example, should have never gone to war in Iraq. (Worth noting: Trump did support the war in Iraq at the time.) This match was never, ever going to work – particularly given that Trump has very little interest in his staff disagreeing with his views. According to a source familiar with the negotiations between Trump and Bolton before the latter was hired as national security adviser, “Bolton promised Trump ‘he wouldn’t start any wars’ if he was selected.” Who could have seen this break-up coming?!?!
Take even a bigger step back and look at the three men who have served as Trump’s national security adviser over the first three-ish years of his presidency: Michael Flynn, H.R. McMaster and Bolton. Flynn got the job because he had been an early and loud supporter of Trump’s 2016 campaign. McMaster was brought in as a sop to the establishment within the party who felt as though things were going off the rails. Bolton was selected for, well, I don’t exactly know.
Try to find the through-line in terms of national security and foreign policy between Flynn, McMaster and Bolton. Go on, I’ll wait.
There isn’t really one. And my strong suspicion is that whoever Trump picks as Bolton’s successor won’t have much in common with the previous national security advisers.
Because – and say this with me – there is no grand plan. There is no north star, no guiding light, no nothing. There is just Trump and his whims.
Which is a hell of a way to run the government.