Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted this about Rex Tilleson, his former Secretary of State:
Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!
Trump was responding to Tillerson’s description of the president as “a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things.” Whatever the accuracy of Tillerson’s comment, we can chalk Trump’s up as another instance of “hitting back harder.”
Yet, it does raise the question of why Trump appointed a dumb, lazy man to the key job of Secretary of State. Did Trump completely misjudge the man or was he indifferent to who held the post?
The same sort of question comes up repeatedly in my mind. Why did Trump pick Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted all of ten days in his job as White House Communications Director? Why did he pick the ridiculous Omarosa Manigault to be Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison.
Beyond these two clowns, Trump has been dissatisfied, sometimes radically so, with many of his appointees and staff members. A partial list includes Jeff Sessions, H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, Reince Priebus, John Kelly, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, and David Shulkin (formerly head of Veterans Affairs). Then there’s James Comey, an Obama holdover whom Trump decided should stay on as FBI director.
And let’s not forget about Michael Cohen, the man Trump chose to be his lawyer and trusted adviser. Trump now describes Cohen as “a liar,” and “weak person,” and “not very smart.” Why did Trump choose as his “consigliere” someone weak and not very smart?
Is Trump a poor judge of ability, intelligence, and character? Based on the foregoing, one could make that case. There’s another possible explanation, though.
It may be that Trump’s personnel decision are “transactional,” to use a phrase often associated with the president. By that I mean that Trump is basing his decisions on short-term considerations, especially expediency, rather than any real assessment of ability, intelligence, and character.
I tend to favor this explanation, while believing that the other one may also be at work in some cases. Either way, picking people for important jobs seems to be a weakness of Trump’s, at least when it comes to government service.