The last month inside of the Trump White House has been tumultuous at best, and seemingly out of control at worst, but the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the ousted-cherry-on-top of a reorganization sundae.
The foundations had already been laid by the departure of Donald Trump’s long-standing Communications Director, Hope Hicks, in late February. As new appointees settle into their shifting roles within the administration, media outlets rush to see who can fill out their “spin bingo” card before their competitors.
The media speculation
One of the first attempted “hot takes” on the firing of Rex Tillerson came from the New Yorker, who attempted to draw a correlation between Rex Tillerson’s comments on the suspected Russian assassination of a former spy in Salisbury, England, and his firing the next day as “a final act of defiance” by the Secretary of State who had long been at odds with the President on the grounds of foreign policy.
Across the aisle, the talking heads at Fox News deduced that the firing of Rex Tillerson was nothing more than a continuation of President Trump’s well-publicized campaign to “drain the swamp”.
The revolving door
Tillerson is to be replaced by current head of the CIA Mike Pompeo, pending a Senate confirmation hearing. At the CIA, Pompeo’s position will be filled by Gina Haspel, who oversaw a prison in Thailand where members of al-Qaeda were tortured in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
Senator Rand Paul has vowed to filibuster the appointment of Haspel, who was a main actor implicated when reports of the CIA’s treatment of prisoners became public knowledge in recent years.
Paul cited candidate Trump’s disagreement with the Iraq War as a main reason for his original support and stated that now President Trump appears to be siding with those who wish for “war in Iran”. With an already shaky road to confirmation, Senator Paul has thrown another wrench into a machine which was functioning below the acceptable level prior to his comments.
A hiding to nothing?
President Trump’s decision to fire Tillerson is hardly unanticipated – it had been forecast by commentators for months. Part of this forecast was due to Tillerson’s own comments leaked by administration officials. Despite that, he was quoted as recently as January, stating that he would “be (in the administration) for the whole year”.
It is no secret that President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson disagreed on many policy issues, perhaps most notably action on the Korean Peninsula and the transfer of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump himself acknowledged their disagreements, and it appears that he sees Pompeo as more in line with his approach to foreign policy.
That said, for all of Tillerson’s foreign policy positions, it is equally important to remember that his initial appointment was criticized due to potential connections to Russia established during his time as Exxon Mobile CEO.
What does the future hold?
Now, with Pompeo’s ascension to the position, the two most relevant conversations will become the Iran Nuclear Deal, which the President and the soon-to-be Secretary of State agree was unfavourable to the United States, and the upcoming discussions with Kim Jong-Un of North Korea.
For a President who has scored just a single major victory in the last fifteen months, it is likely that he will look to the North Korea discussions as a place to “win big” before the midterm elections in the autumn. After losing a pivotal district in Pennsylvania to Democratic candidate Conor Lamb, the GOP needs all of the positive publicity it can acquire, the bulk of which would come from progress on North Korea and trade.
As unorthodox as it has been, this process is not something that has caught many people off-guard, despite the attempts to make the casual observer believe this is the case. With tweets outlining “Trump’s Day So Far” and other attempts to paint the White House in a chaotic light, there has been a mass movement to portray each action taken by the President and his administration as entirely negative.
For neoconservatives, the appointment of Pompeo will be a welcomed change, while any other portion of the political spectrum will deem it a failure of leadership to have such a revolving door policy.
People elected Donald Trump for the precise reason that many have gone on to hate him: he lacks consideration for optics, perhaps because he knows that the science of optics has been long corrupted.
With each brandishing of his Presidential sword, cutting away those who disagree with him and ushering in new eras at decades-old institutions, he solidifies a vitriolic base and rolls the dice on adding more voters to his ranks.