Tillerson Calling Trump a ‘Moron’ Is the Tip of the Iceberg

The big story so far today comes from NBC:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on the verge of resigning this past summer amid mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House, according to senior administration officials who were aware of the situation at the time.

The tensions came to a head around the time President Donald Trump delivered a politicized speech in late July to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson once led, the officials said.

Just days earlier, Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a “moron,” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident.

On the issue of whether or not Tillerson called Trump a moron, the Sec. of State has already issued a non-denial denial, and of course the president took to Twitter to call it fake news. It strikes me that this might be the one time a member of the administration actually told the truth.

But this incident comes right on the heels of Trump undermining Tillerson on Twitter for his attempts at diplomacy with North Korea. Those two have been at odds for a while now on a whole host of things, including key policy issues like Qatar, North Korea and Iran. Back in August, Jonathan Swan reported on something Trump said about his Sec. of State that captured things quite well: “Rex just doesn’t get it, he’s totally establishment in his thinking.”

To get an idea of how this feud with Tillerson is simply the tip of the iceberg, it is helpful to review the original eight power centers I’ve been referring to in the White House.

1. The White Nationalists – Bannon, Sessions, Miller, Gorka, Navarro
2. The Evangelicals – Pence, Price, Pruitt, DeVos and Short
3. The Generals – Mattis, Kelly, MacMaster
4. The Friends and Family – Ivanka, Kushner, Cohen
5. The RNCers – Preibus, Spicer, Walsh
6. The Wall Streeters – Mnuchin, Cohn
7. The Bureaucrats – 1.8 million workers at federal agencies
8. The Lone Wolfs – Conway, McGahn, Tillerson

Tillerson was listed as a Lone Wolf, but given that his job revolves around foreign policy, he tends to also align with the Generals. Trump has already ejected the RNCers and the Wall Streeters have hung on in order to do tax reform. Word is that Jared Kushner and Ivanka are shrinking their roles in the White House, while the Evangelicals are staying in their own lanes by pursing an agenda within their departments. That pretty much leaves the Generals to take on the White Nationalists.

When people refer to the Generals as the adults in this administration, that usually means that they take a more “establishment” position, especially on foreign policy issues. As such, it is not just Tillerson who has been at odds with Trump. In just the last couple of months, we’ve witnessed the following:

  • Many of them made statements that contradicted Trump’s remarks following the events in Charlottesville
  • Mattis is slow-walking Trump’s edict to ban transgendered people from the military
  • Kelly did a facepalm when Trump ignored their advice about not calling the North Korean leader names during his UN speech
  • In testimony before Congress yesterday, two of them directly defied Trump’s claim that the Iran nuclear agreement was a catastrophic mistake and spoke against his determination to find Iran to be non-compliant with their obligations.

“At this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, [the Iran nuclear agreement] is something the president should consider staying in,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee…

…appearing alongside Mattis, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told the panel Iran “is not in material breach” of the agreement, contending that the pact has “delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran.”

I say all that to suggest that it is very unlikely that Tillerson is the only one to have used a descriptor like “moron” in reference to this president.

Trump seems to revere the Generals, perhaps because of his background at a military academy, as well as the fact that he has always been drawn to men who approach things from an authoritarian position. But if/when the battle between the establishment and the insurgents heats up and Trump chooses sides, it will no doubt be with the latter. That is when these tensions between he and the Generals are likely to become even more visible.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.