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Sunday Political Brunch: Is President Trump Undermining Himself?—October 15, 2017

Sunday, October 15, 2017


There were rumors this past week -- both of which were officially denied -- that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were getting ready to leave. Just nine months into the administration, the Trump White House has already seen a huge exodus. What does it mean? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“By The Numbers” – I researched the last 13 Presidencies to see which ones had the most and which the fewest departures among prominent cabinet members and senior staff and advisers. Here’s the list from highest to lowest: Trump, 8; Nixon, 7; Obama, 5; Clinton, 4; George W. Bush, 4; Carter, 4; Truman, 3; Ford, 3; Reagan, 2; George H.W. Bush, 1; Kennedy, 1; Johnson, 1; and Eisenhower, 0.

“Longevity Matters” – As of this week, President Trump will have been in office for nine months. It took Richard Nixon nearly six years to dismiss almost as many key figures. Five of these other Presidents served two full terms, and didn’t even come close to Trump's or Nixon's staff shake-ups during a much shorter time frame.

“Apples And Oranges” – Admittedly, my list and analysis are not necessarily a scientific comparison. For example, the Nixon administration is probably an anomaly since it was under siege in the Watergate investigation. Three of the prominent people were fired or resigned in the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre” in October, 1973.

“Falling On Your Sword” – Sometimes a cabinet member must simply take the fall for a problem or decison, and resign out of deference to the President. Such was the case for former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, who quit after a failed military operation in Somalia. CIA Director Allen Dulles resigned from the Kennedy White House after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba. In short, cabinet members sometimes have to “take one for the team” or to absorb blame for the boss.

“Off The Reservation” – Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign after making comments about sex education which were far afield from the official position of the Clinton administration. And, Trump White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci left after just ten days – in part – after making offensive sexual references about other White House staffers. The lesson: Stay on the boss’s message, not your own; and, for God’s sake, think before you speak!

“A Common Denominator” – Many of those let go were not for political scandal, but perhaps more for greed. For example, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was dismissed for taking private charters, rather than government aircraft, to various events, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy in the Clinton administration was felled for similar behavior.

“Double-Trouble” – Only one person on my list of dismissed senior White House officials actually appears twice. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was the first prominent Trump official to be let go, when he was dismissed as National Security Advisor. President Obama also had dismissed Flynn when he was Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“The Most Important” – The most critical cabinet members in any administration are the big four: Secretary of State; Secretary of Defense; Secretary of the Treasury; and Attorney General. Given their importance on diplomacy, national security, the economy and law enforcement, the dismissal or forced resignation of any one of these can be unsettling internally and to the public at large. The same can’t really be said for the Secretaries of Energy or of Housing and Urban Development. Yes, they are important, too, but not nearly as much so.

“Why All Of This Matters” – People remain the main resource of any organization, whether in private business or in the public sector. Continuity and stability of management are essential. I’ve worked for some really successful broadcasting operations in my career, and I’ve worked for some real dogs. In one case, we had a total of eight news directors and a like number of chief engineers in fewer than five years. Just when some got their sea legs, they were out the door. You were left wondering, “Who is in charge?” Organizations can’t function in the absence of leadership. The White House and the Cabinet are no different. Instability erodes public confidence, not to mention the confidence of the internal staff. People can’t be left to wonder, “Who’s minding the store?”

What do you think of the latest Trump turmoil? Just leave your opinions by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is an award-winning political reporter, author, and analyst now based in Charleston, West Virginia. He is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving the Mountain State.


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