(Charleston, West Virginia) – Everyone has been talking about the first 100 days of the Trump administration. Forget that! How about the first 30 days, which we are completing this weekend? This has been a wild, roller-coaster ride, but many of the potholes the President hit, have been experienced by others before him. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:
“Out Like Flynn” – They love to split hairs about these things in Washington, DC. No one wants to say someone has been fired; they always “resigned.” Well, what happens is the President of the United States asks for your resignation, which is a polite spin on saying, “You’re fired!” National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is gone; and now his potential replacement - retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward - says he won’t take the job. This NSA position has been a headache for other Presidents, too!
“Tossing Rice” – President Obama’s final National Security Advisor was a lightning rod for controversy. Susan Rice held the job for three-and-a-half years, but earlier troubles prevented her from ever gaining the measure of respect to which the office is entitled. Earlier in the Obama administration, Rice was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. When four Americans were killed at a CIA outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, Rice went on numerous network newscasts to say the attacks were a direct result of a "heinous and offensive [anti-Muslim] video", and were spontaneous, not pre-planned. We learned not long after that there was no such video motivation and no such protest. It was a calculated and deliberate terrorist attack. The fallout likely prevented Rice from being named Secretary of State.
“A Bad Berger” – To be fair, the late National Security Advisor Sandy Berger violated no laws, ethics, or principles that we know of while he held the post during the Clinton administration from 1997 to 2001. It was after he left the post that he got into a whole heap of trouble. In 2003, Berger was scheduled to testify before the 9/11 Commission about anti-terrorism measures taken while President Clinton was in office. In preparation for his testimony, Berger visited the National Archives, illegally removed four classified documents and smuggled them out of the building. Berger later pled guilty to the charges and had his law license revoked.
“Win One for the Gipper’s Wife” – In 1982, National Security Advisor Richard Allen was forced to resign after a Japanese reporter claimed he had bribed Allen to secure an interview with First Lady Nancy Reagan (a charge never made in court nor resulting in any legal sanction). Allen said he had intercepted a check made out to Mrs. Reagan to avoid any embarrassment to the Reagan family. Nonetheless, the drumbeat of negative headlines eventually led to his departure.
“Why the NSA Pothole?” – Others who held the NSA job ran into political trouble and controversy, too, so why? My assessment is that this is a crucial intelligence, diplomatic, and political job. Imagine, for example, having to be Secretary of State, CIA Director, and Chairman of your own political party - all at the very same time. There have got to be conflicts and temptations galore. I say this not to make excuses for Michael Flynn or the others, but to demonstrate that NSA has been the Achilles Heel of many a Presidential administration.
“The Puzder Puzzle” – Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder officially became the “sacrificial lamb” of the Trump Cabinet appointees. It happens to virtually every President, whether they have Cabinet appointees or Supreme Court nominees go down in flames. It’s a Washington parlor game as a way to one-up a President. Think failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in the Reagan era, or failed Defense Secretary nominee John Tower in the Bush I administration. President Clinton had two nominees for Attorney General torpedoed before finally settling in on Janet Reno. It happens!
“Mending Fences” – Speaking of the failed Labor Secretary nominee, President Trump quickly found a replacement by nominating Alexander Acosta to head the Labor Department. Acosta – if approved – would be the first Latino in Trump’s Cabinet. This was something for which the President was criticized - not selecting a Hispanic in the first place - after Trump garnered 28 percent of the Latin vote nationwide.
“Immigration Delineation” – The President is also on the defensive (both legally and politically) over his Executive Order banning travel to the U.S. from seven majority Muslim countries. While he lost in the Court of Appeals - and may bypass a Supreme Court fight by issuing a more Constitutionally defensible order - he has wasted enormous political capital on his signature issue – immigration reform. Rather than using executive fiat, he would be better served by codifying immigration reform by getting Congress to pass reforms into law. He needs to co-opt his party’s majorities in the House and Senate while he still has them. “Going it alone” is a bad strategy in Washington, DC.
“Why All of This Matters” – It has been portrayed that Trump’s rough start is somehow unprecedented, or an anomaly. We’ve shown here that most Presidents have major hiccups in their first 100 days. But the public and other branches of government have only so much patience. Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and others had troubles out of the starting gate, but corrected their courses and bounced back. Trump could take a page from the Reagan playbook (pictured above) – Reagan won as a Washington outsider, yet embraced official “insider” Washington when he got there – to great political success. Sometimes, history can repeat itself.
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