FILE – In this Feb. 6, 2017 file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stands outside the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File
It’s fair to say that the Trump administration has seen plenty of turnover in its first two years.
General Mattis’ departure by way of resignation, while not the first, is certainly the most troublesome exit of them all. Instead of leaving on good terms, the decorated Marine choose to do so by listing his many concerns in a letter. Mattis took issue with the president’s policies, tactics, and yes, his blatant disrespect for our allies.
His withdrawal sends a worrisome signal to those who actually care what an honorable individual like him thinks about our commander-in-chief. While the president can surround himself with talented, knowledgeable, and capable men and women, his appointees can only stay so long as they deem appropriate. In this instance, General Mattis had enough of the president treating alliances with little care and lacking clarity with regard to our enemies.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues.
Mattis was right to bring up Trump’s questionable foreign policy and Americans should take notice.
Unfortunately, many in the uncritical MAGA crowd simply don’t care about these stated concerns. To them, General Mattis represents a defector who maligned their leader, and no one is allowed to do that. In their eyes, President Donald J. Trump can do no wrong and anyone who questions him is working to subvert some grand, “America first!” plan.
Such is tribalism.
However, a portion of the electorate takes note of Mattis’ withdrawal (made more expedient by a petulant Trump), and will filter their feelings about 2020 through this and other means. If they already took some issue with the president’s behavior, this incident only increased their worries.
Charlie Sykes, a conservative commentator who wrote at the now-defunct Weekly Standard wondered aloud recently whether Trump’s handling of the Mattis departure may impact his election chances, emphasis mine.
“He was the chaos candidate, he was the dysfunction candidate,” Sykes told host Joe Scarborough. “I’m not sure that bothered much of his core base. the last two years has been an experiment about the depth of our tribalism, how much would we be willing to accept, how far could you push the line?”
After pausing, Sykes exclaimed, “You know, up until now we’ve seen that there seemed to be no bottom. There seemed to be no limit and I don’t know if this administration is terminal but there’s no question about it that there’s really fundamental cracks in the way he’s handling Mattis.”
“Leaving aside just fundamental decency, leaving aside the personal decency, you would think there would be some sort of self-preservation,” the conservative cautioned Trump. “Can you imagine if there was a primary challenge of Donald Trump by General Mattis or if Democrats put somebody like General Mattis on the ticket? This would be the worst nightmare for Donald Trump because he has portrayed himself fraudulently as the strong man who backs the military, and basically General Mattis is in the process of calling B.S. on the president.”
In calling President Trump the “chaos candidate”, Sykes is not wrong.
While this administration has seen some wins there have been plenty of losses, too. Not only that, the demeanor exhibited by the president and his obvious lack of interest in approaching foreign policy in a measured manner (as made clear by Mattis), casts a long shadow on the man.
If Donald Trump’s first two years were filled with problems, just imagine what the next two years will bring.
Personally, I am more convinced than ever that my vote on November 8, 2016, for a third party candidate was the right choice. As an actual conservative who refuses to place party over principle, I simply cannot get behind the 45th president in the voting booth. As it stands, I plan on voting along the same lines on November 3, 2020.
As David French of National Review wrote in his usual spot-on style, we should take note of the warning sent by General Mattis.
Donald Trump is at a pivotal moment. He can heed General Mattis’s warning — delivered publicly, firmly, and respectfully — or he can continue down his current, reckless path. This letter represents America’s most-respected warrior telling the nation that he does not believe the president sees our enemies clearly, understands the importance of our alliances, or perceives the necessity of American leadership. We should be deeply troubled.
For me, and I dare to say, plenty of others, the Mattis situation is a final nail in the coffin of possibility. There will be no support of Trump in 2020.
He has only himself to thank for that, too.