Cabinet Chaos in Trump’s Administration

Image credit: New York Times

Donald Trump has been president for a little over a year and when it comes spectacle he has not disappointed. Due to the intense pressure and dissatisfaction of serving under such a temperamental and volatile executive, over 60 percent of the senior management at the State Department had already resigned within 90 days of Trump’s inauguration [1]. Thus far, over 35 major officials have either resigned or been fired from Trump’s Administrations for seemingly innocuous reasons [2].

This pattern of questionable terminations began with the rather controversial firing of F.B.I. director James Comey. With any administration, it behooves the incoming president to pick cabinet officials with whom they have an amicable relationship; however, they should possess some knowledge of the subject matter relevant to their respective department, and should be able to advise the president in an honest and objective manner. It would appear that President Trump’s Administration places a premium on obedience when selecting his senior advisers; any individual that runs counter to his interpretation of conservative orthodoxy usually departs via Twitter firing, or forced resignation. Others have elected to resign due to misappropriated resources (such as former HHS Secretary Tom Price) or difficulty from the executive. The Trump Administration has a substantial turnover issue; even the president’s legal team has jumped ship leaving seemingly unfillable voids. As the presidency continues only time will tell if this cabinet can find a stable formula.

The complexity of American government makes being objective without any form of disagreement a nigh-impossible task. Trump’s desires of his cabinet members form the basis for our vendetta, which is establishment v. outsiders. He has insisted on having individuals with minimal political exposure in his cabinet and thus far it has done more harm than good. James Comey was steadfast in his dedication to investigating a possible compromise in our election system and refused to comply with Trump’s request to “letting [Michael] Flynn go;” it is widely believed that this is the reason he was fired. Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and former Press Secretary Sean Spicer both resigned over their objections to the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci; and following their departure, only eleven days into his tenure Scaramucci was released from his position for his potential communications with the Department of Justice.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had mostly complied with Trump’s goals to reduce the size of the federal government [3], cutting many resources from the State Department. However, after calling the president a “f*cking moron” in private [4], he quickly lost favor with the president and was fired via Twitter. Former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster caught the ire of Trump and a multitude of his subordinates for his disagreement on several policy issues, even coming under scrutiny for not being “conservative enough”. McMaster was formally terminated as of April 9th, 2018. Good intentions notwithstanding, those who have deviated from Trump’s playbook in any way have quickly been dispatched. With Robert Mueller drawing the public eye continuously toward the prospect of administrative corruption, others have preemptively resigned to save the administration from increased scrutiny. Communications Director and close Trump confidante Hope Hicks admitted in a House Intelligence Committee hearing that when convenient, she lies on behalf of the President [5]; following this announcement she promptly resigned. Tom Price resigned after it was discovered that he utilized in excess of $1 million dollars in federal funds for his personal travel.

The appointment of firebrand and foreign policy veteran John Bolton has caused an uproar in national media circles. It is surmised that he was approached for his vitriolic rhetoric and his vehement commitment to putting America first. Unlike many other Trump appointments, Bolton is a member of the “establishment” in the sense that he served prominent roles in the Bush administration (including as Ambassador to the United Nations). One can safely assume that in the coming months the composition of the cabinet and the executive which it serves will begin to have a lot more in common.

Each cabinet member serves at the pleasure of the president, meaning that he may dismiss any of them for no cause at any time he wishes [6]. All senior officials, White House staffers, cabinet members, and federal agency heads are appointed by the president and – save for the staffers – are approved by the Senate. The legality of playing musical chairs with top cabinet posts is not in question here, but the motivation is. Unfortunately, probable cause is irrelevant when it comes to relieving senior executive officials. It is incredibly difficult to perform a job where providing sound counsel can get you canned; many officials in roles that are non-partisan have voluntarily left the government after having served in government for decades.

There isn’t any realistic action that can be taken to address this problem; this is one of the rare instances in which the president has almost absolute discretion. The public can pressure Congress to make the confirmation process more challenging to rule out obviously unfit candidates such as judicial nominee Matthew Petersen (who famously failed to answer basic judicial questions that one would need to know to perform his job during his confirmation hearing). If Senate Republicans choose more stringent confirmation protocols as they did with Petersen and multiple other judicial nominees, maybe Trump will be forced to retain appropriate talent.

To bring stability within the cabinet and mitigate the high turnover rates we are seeing the president should heed the advice of his senior policy staff and party when selecting cabinet members. He should commit to appointing establishment candidates that can traverse the complex political environment, especially in the midst of an investigation into his administration. This would streamline the approval process and cut down on policy deviation. This strategy could backfire if the party were to vouch for individuals that undermined Trump’s authority in favor of the party policy positions. Furthermore, Trump campaigned (and won election) as an outsider vowing to “Drain the Swamp,” so appointing insiders to his Cabinet may harm him among his supporters.

On the other hand, Trump could resort to his new selection method and appoint those to which he feels would carry out his vision best. This would be the simplest strategy to ensure cohesion and compliance, but he’d undoubtedly be sacrificing crucial expertise, experience, and finesse, things which our government is in short supply of. However, with the stream of outsiders in the White House (especially from Wall Street) you run the risk of not only limiting effective policy decisions but creating even more investigations into misconduct. In the best-case scenario, the president could nominate individuals with a proven track record of applicable knowledge, professionalism, education, and desire for each and every senior post, but that’d be boring!

The optimal path to creating a cabinet that can withstand the test of time is to select candidates that are the opposite of what drew voters to Trump. The president should line his senior officials with veteran Beltway insiders that can help him navigate the arcane labyrinth that is Washington DC. This would simplify the process of getting policy from committee to signature, introduce some finesse and diplomacy to present the administration in a more positive light, and reign in the media circus that is constantly placing Trump’s White House under national scrutiny. As heretical as it may seem, John Bolton embodies this strategy completely. He is a Washington heavyweight dating back to the G.W. Bush presidency and happens to be a hardliner with a temper matching the president’s own. This may seem like a proposition straight from a “fake news” article, but if Trump wants his team to conquer Washington, he’s going to have to enlist those who know it best. Sadly, you can’t build a wall between yourself and reality.

Take Action – Take a look at all of the Trump administration departures thus far – Compare the list of Trump resignations with the Obama presidency and see how they stack up – Examine the process of confirming presidential appointees. – Watch a video on the process here



  1. “New data shows how the Trump administration is destroying the State Department”, Vox, accessed April 8, 2018.
  2. “Hired and Fired: The Unprecedented Turnover of the Trump Administration”, New York Times, accessed April 8, 2018.
  3. “How Rex Tillerson Wrecked the State Department”, The New Yorker, accessed April 8, 2018.
  4. “Trump challenges Tillerson to compare IQ tests’ after “moron” dig”, The Guardian, accessed April 8, 2018.
  5. “Hope Hicks Admits She Tells White Lies For Trump”, US News, accessed April 8, 2018.
  6. “The 25th Amendment”, Wikipedia, April 8, 2018.



David Williams is a Los Angeles native who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from University of California, Santa Cruz. He has been interested in politics since his early childhood. During his undergraduate studies, he was a chief campaign intern for the Santa Cruz City School Board. He has undertaken independent studies in issues such as homelessness and university-level crime (bullying, etc.). His key areas of interest are: Higher Education, domestic legal policy, and Middle Class advocacy. He is a firm believer in a proper people representation and governmental accountability, and aspires to run for public office one day. He believes objectivity is paramount in productive political dialogues, and he hopes to bring that as a Policy Corner Writer for PVNN Inc.

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