There is no doubt some ideological component that helps explain why the Trump administration has made so few appointments and seen so few confirmations of people to fill out their government. But the fuller story is one of lack of preparedness, a refusal by Trump to consider nominees who have been critical of him, a lack of desire by an increasing number of people to seek employment in his administration, and a lack of qualifications or actual disqualifications among those why were vocal supporters of Trump’s candidacy. The Democrats have engaged in some slow-walking, too, mainly in a reciprocal denial of unanimous consent in the Senate that would speed along the nominees who have been named. On the whole, though, Democratic obstruction explains almost none of the phenomenon.
Trump was called on his failure to staff up his government on Fox & Friends this morning and he doesn’t like to be criticized. So, it was perhaps inevitable that he would find some justification for his lack of action.
In context, that didn’t sound too good because he was taking flak from Laura Ingraham, a strong supporter, who took the opportunity of her appearance of Fox & Friends to point out that the hurricane response, not to mention our nation’s response to provocations from North Korea, might be undermined by understaffing in key departments. The president was basically saying that the understaffing is an ideologically based free decision and his way of reducing the size of the government. He didn’t seem to realize that it’s a bit perilous to argue that we “don’t need” these positions filled at a time of crisis.
But this is typical Trump. He often reacts defensively and winds of making matters worse for himself. It’s not exactly true, or fully true, that his understaffing is intentional.
Another example of this tendency of Trump’s to make poor justifications for his actions came when he was criticized for announcing the pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio during a typical Friday news dump and in the midst of a looming catastrophe from Hurricane Harvey on the Gulf Coast. The implication, of course, was that Trump wanted to announce a controversial decision when most people are done with work and starting their weekends- a time known for having the lowest viewership and consumption of news. Insofar as people would be paying attention, they’d be paying attention to the Hurricane and any resulting carnage.
Trump decided the best way to counter that argument was to argue that his intention was actually the opposite. He wanted the largest possible audience to see his announcement on Arpaio, and he figured that the Friday news dump would be a good time despite it being a time of low viewership precisely because people would be tuning in to get news about the hurricane.
This, of course, made him seem completely callous about the coming victims of Hurricane Harvey, but he somehow could not anticipate that this would be the result.
In both cases, Trump was lying. As I’ve stated, he’d have a better-staffed administration if he was willing to work harder and had more people to choose from. And he actually was trying to bury criticism and discussion of his Arpaio pardon.
But his opponents can now use his own words against him to critique his response to the devastation in Texas and Louisiana. If FEMA comes up short, well, the president didn’t want FEMA fully staffed. And why was he using the victims as cover for his deeply unpopular and controversial decision to pardon a racist sheriff?
In some ways, Trump can be completely unpredictable and it’s a political strength for him. But in his defensiveness he is all too predictable and can be baited into making unforced errors. The way he is allergic to taking responsibility for his actions leads him, time and time again, to take even fuller ownership of his missteps and mistakes.