Having sacked Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, President Donald Trump has signaled that other heads could be meant for the guillotine. Perhaps as many as nine. Cabinet massacres of that scale are usually a sign of instability, even failing leadership. It wasn’t Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence speech in 1979 that destroyed his credibility so much as the mass Cabinet firing that followed it.
But Trump isn’t Carter. Carter’s problem was that he had lost sight of where he was going or what he wanted. Trump knows what he wants, but one of his biggest challenges is he lacks the personnel to get it done.
There are two good grounds for a Cabinet bloodbath. One, kick out the embarrassments. That includes Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who was accused of misusing taxpayer money on a trip to Europe, or Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who apparently purchased (then canceled) a dining set that cost $31,000 for his work office. Conservatives should know better. The public wants to see its politicians eat off paper plates.
Second, kick out the people who undermine the boss. It’s one thing to have a Cabinet that reflects a diversity of opinion, such as Lincoln’s famous team of rivals. But when the President has a clear agenda that requires a radical departure from the status quo, he cannot have officials contradict it. Tillerson went, we speculate, because he wanted to save the Iran nuclear deal and have a friendlier relationship with China.
And H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, might well go for similar reasons. If this happens, Trump would not only be right to fire someone who disagrees with him but he’d also be doing it for the right reasons, although he should tread carefully when it comes to a replacement.
Reportedly under consideration is former UN Ambassador (under George W. Bush) John Bolton, a perennial hawk whose appointment might be seen as a repudiation of Trump’s anti-Iraq War, relatively anti-interventionist stance. It would be, say some, a betrayal of the President’s base.