Another sign of division in the Trump administration emerged Sunday as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a terse interview to Chris Wallace of Fox News in which he markedly failed to state that the President spoke for the American people. Asked to respond to the United Nations’ condemnation of the administration’s reponse to the events in Charlottesville, VA a fortnight ago, the country’s highest-ranking diplomat would commit himself only to saying that the Donald Trump “speaks for himself”.
As fresh controversy revolved around the White House on the back of the departure of presidential surrogate Seb Gorka and the President’s pardoning of controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, the impression of an administration in chaos seems only to grow. Commentators have suggested that this aspect of Trump’s presidency is less than accidental. By moving from one controversy to the next on an almost daily basis, some suggest, the President does not leave time for any one issue to become large enough to sink his presidency.
Secretary Tillerson’s statement comes on the heels of a thinly-veiled rebuke to the administration from economic advisor Gary Cohn, who has stated that the White House needs to do better in response to the actions of nationalist hate groups. While Tillerson, Cohn (who according to the New York Times, drafted a resignation letter after Charlottesville) and various others have seemed to imply a lack of total support for the president, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have fallen in behind the Commander-In-Chief.
Tillerson’s interview stopped short of open or direct rebuke of the President. However, what will rankle with Trump loyalists is the lack of explicit endorsement of Trump’s position. In the light of video footage of Defense Secretary James Mattis telling troops that America “has problems that we don’t have in the military,” there are increasing signs that the more independently-minded members of the Cabinet are beginning to see themselves more as moderating influences on the President’s actions than instruments of his power.
Against this backdrop, the departure of Gorka takes on added intrigue. After Secretary Tillerson’s comments earlier this month that Americans should sleep soundly in the light of two-way bellicose rhetoric between the White House and North Korea, the now-departed spokesman insinuated that for Tillerson to speak of military matters was “simply nonsensical.” Hot on the heels of Steven Bannon’s departure from the administration and return to right-wing media outlet Breitbart News, stories have emerged that Gorka himself may be set to take the exact same path.
Perhaps most confusingly of all, there is little evidence to back up any specific analysis of the recent departures in one direction or another. Newly-appointed chief of staff John Kelly is understood to feel that ideologues like Gorka and Bannon distract from the serious business of running the country.
However, there seems to be no sign of a resulting moderation in the words or actions of the President. Trump’s latest Tweets in the light of a catastrophic storm in Texas seemed to weave between stunned awe at the extent of the damage and self-congratulation for his victory in last November’s election. Hurricane Harvey – which has caused an as yet unconfirmed number of deaths – may be seen as the first real-world challenge of Trump’s presidency. How he approaches it is sure to have implications for what remains of the President’s public support.
[Featured Image by Win McNamee/Getty Images]