I have to confess, when Donald Trump took office I didn’t think he’d be there very long. It wasn’t because I thought the election would be overturned for any reason, or because I thought the pee tape would surface. It wasn’t because I was blinded by a desire to see him removed from office, nor because I thought we’d finally see his tax returns. Rather, I thought he’d be out of office pretty quickly because the Republican-controlled Congress itself just wouldn’t want to deal with him.
As it turned out, I wasn’t alone by any stretch of the imagination. Talk of impeachment early in the Trump presidency was so active that it became big business for bookies. Said one site looking at the issue from that perspective, everyone and their dog was ready to revolt against the billionaire. Democrats found him illegitimate, Republicans seemed to find him exasperating once they got over the thrill of victory, and media members, neutral and otherwise, covered the idea of impeachment as a very realistic possibility.
All of this made it seem real. And then I thought about what Congress could actually do: pick one of innumerable scandals that “Teflon Don” seems to skate past on a daily basis, hold impeachment hearings, end this years-long political clown show, and install well-spoken conservative robot Mike Pence as the 46th president of the United States. It didn’t just seem like a possibility – it seemed like the most logical course of action, even for Republicans looking out for their own party.
I was extraordinarily wrong, for a reason I never could have predicted. I was wrong because Republicans, for many months at least, didn’t seem the least bit interested in clashing with the man leading their party. Despite the fact that he only became a Republican fairly recently, and has shown virtually no loyalty to other party leaders, Trump seemed to inspire a bizarre sense of loyalty among the top figures in government. Republicans brush off his controversies, excuse his offenses, and generally line up behind him in pursuit of a conservative agenda that doesn’t actually seem to exist beyond a few vague talking points.
More recently, this has started to change. Members of the Trump cabinet and administration have had friction with the president, and when it’s gone public, it’s begun to result in firings and/or resignations. Reince Preibus, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, and Tom Price have all been shown the door after disagreements. In other words, some leaders of the party and administration are starting to stray from Trump the way I thought they might earlier in the process. And if reporting is to be believed, we might have just seen one of the best and most bizarre examples yet.
According to NBC, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson nearly resigned this summer over various tensions with the White House, and even referred to Trump as a moron. That’s about the most direct insult we’ve heard of from a high-ranking member of the government, and something it’s easy to suspect other officials echoing behind closed doors. From Tillerson’s perspective, it’s a pretty justified comment as well. Trump has repeatedly contradicted his Secretary of State publicly and in arguably dangerous fashion. He has insulted dangerous world leaders via Twitter. And he has demonstrated a poor understanding of geopolitics pretty much since he emerged as a political figure.
But it could never have been that simple! Seemingly petrified at the notion of speaking his own mind and publicly criticizing a president who demands but does not reward loyalty, Tillerson rejected NBC’s report. He denied ever considering leaving his post, praised Trump’s policy agenda, and dismissed the supposed “moron” comment as “petty stuff” (without outright denying it). In short, he identified a moron and then stooped to his level.
I’m not suggesting Tillerson should have come out and confirmed the report, because he’d have been fired by lunchtime. But if he thinks this is “petty stuff” that he can brush over with a few nice words, he’s probably mistaken. This sort of thing is what led to other high profile exits from this administration and cabinet, and if Tillerson thinks he’s safe, he may want to look in the mirror the next time he throws out this particular insult.