With Sean Spicer transitioning to an off-camera role, the title is anyone’s for the taking. But Tillerson, the secretary of state who has been very adamant about not wanting to be secretary of state, is the clear frontrunner.
Tillerson was tapped for the job—reportedly after being recommended by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—for his deep managerial experience as well as his numerous foreign contacts, both of which he acquired while running Exxon. But Tillerson’s first six months have instead been defined by incompetence—hundreds of positions at the State Department remain unfilled—and by repeatedly finding himself out of step with President Trump. This has been most notable in the United States’s attempts to diffuse the ongoing crisis between Qatar and other Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia. While Tillerson has tried to establish the United States as a broker to resolve the conflict without taking sides, Trump has repeatedly and loudly taken the side of the Saudis, proclaiming that Qatar is a “funder of terrorism at a very high level” in a recent news conference.
According to The New York Times, this is partly the result of the dysfunction that has ruled the White House since day one: “Some in the White House say that the discord in the Qatar dispute is part of a broader struggle over who is in charge of Middle East policy—Mr. Tillerson or Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior adviser—and that the secretary of state has a tin ear about the political realities of the Trump administration.” But Tillerson himself is also at fault, and seems to have been ill-prepared for the rigors of the job, or the whims of the president he’s serving: “Others say it is merely symptomatic of a dysfunctional State Department that, under Mr. Tillerson’s uncertain leadership, does not yet have in place the senior political appointees who make the wheels of diplomacy turn.”
This is the Trump White House in a nutshell. Trump creates problems for everyone on an hourly basis, but the team he has in place also seems uniquely unprepared to perform even basic tasks. Still, no one has been steamrolled like Tillerson has and no one seems to be more miserable. Tillerson, the Times writes, “has remained publicly stoic, proceeding at his own pace, though colleagues from his Exxon days say they have seen little evidence he is finding much joy in the job.”