President Donald Trump has been so odious for so long that even his tweets fail to shock anymore. Another round of “little rocket man” jabs at North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un will scarcely pique the news cycle. The public has grown used to Trump’s unfailing unprofessionalism. Although this obnoxiousness has cemented the left’s disdain for the Donald, it means that there is relatively little that can damage him politically. One of the few things Trump has going for him as President is that things can’t get much worse.
When your approval ratings are in the seventies, any misstep or faux pas could send your popularity sinking. But when you’re cruising at forty, you don’t have to worry as much about pleasing everyone. Trump’s base is sticking with him, but pretty much everyone else has been turned off. Many voters may have cast ballots for Trump solely because he was not Hillary Clinton, and they are undoubtedly regretting their decision daily. This doesn’t seem to both the Trump administration one bit, and the former real estate tycoon is already looking toward 2020.
But a childish brouhaha between President Trump and his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, may have revealed some exploitable chinks in the commander-in-chief’s political armor. Days ago, the Secretary of State allegedly called Trump a “moron” during a meeting with some military brass. Tillerson refused to deny the allegation, implying that he did indeed refer derogatorily toward his boss. In response, Trump has insisted that he would beat Tillerson in an “I.Q. test.” Coming on the heels of Trump’s apparent sidelining of Tillerson on North Korean diplomacy, the growing spat between the two has pundits wondering whether Tillerson will resign.
Following the recent resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Tillerson’s own recusal from Trump’s administration would be unprecedented. Never before has a President hemorrhaged key leadership like Donald Trump. While Trump’s base may stick with him through liberal accusations and mockery, the one thing they may not tolerate is continued incompetence. Nobody voted for Trump last November because they thought he was a nice guy – they voted for him because they thought he was a WINNER.
If Trump cannot even hold his cabinet together, he has no claims on being a winner. Already, the first eight-and-a-half months of his administration have left him with exactly zero pieces of major legislation passed. It is guaranteed that Trump will be taunted mercilessly by 2020 opponents about his failure to accomplish anything substantial in 2017, despite his party controlling both houses of Congress.
Holding his cabinet together could be Donald Trump’s Achilles heel: It seems clear that the billionaire business mogul cannot remain quiet in the face of a challenge. Informing the President that he had been besmirched by an underling prompted him to publicly engage in a taunt fit for an elementary schoolyard, insisting that he was the smarter man. In the Washington world of large egos, it is unlikely that many cabinet secretaries will tolerate such crude disrespect. If Tillerson decides to resign, few will blame him.
With retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker deciding to let loose on Trump’s incompetence, it is likely only a matter of time until other Republican leaders will follow suit. Once again, the President’s inability to keep calm and play the long game will result in him lashing out and further alienating the Washington crowd.
The President should consider himself above the fray and realize that not all slights should be dignified with a response. By responding publicly to any slight, such as Tillerson’s alleged description of him as a “moron,” Donald Trump is effectively dignifying his critics and revealing that he fears such language. Does he fear such insults because he believes them to be true? Does he strike back because he fears that the public will see through him if he does not double down on an image of bravado? By starting down this controversial path, Trump may have sparked his own undoing with behavior usually not seen after elementary school.