That Secretary of State Tillerson is the unhappiest man in Washington has been apparent for months. His boss is unstable and publicly undercuts him in delicate moments. President Trump’s low-rent madman theory has brought us to the brink of nuclear war with North Korea, and it is basically impossible to do anything that would fall under the rubric of “normal foreign policy” as long as there’s a smartphone within 15 feet of the president. But Tillerson has done himself no favors. He has mismanaged the State Department, overseeing a mass exodus of talent and institutional knowledge, and seems to be hated by everyone in Trump’s orbit.
On Wednesday, a flurry of reports suggested that Tillerson was on the outs. One claimed that he and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster do not get along and have shouted at each other. The most salacious, from NBC, claimed that Tillerson came very close to resigning this summer, after Trump gave a campaign-style speech at the Boy Scout jamboree. Tillerson also reportedly told Pentagon officials and cabinet members that Trump was “a moron.”
Hours after those reports began circulating, the State Department announced that Tillerson would make an unscheduled statement, leading some to speculate that he was resigning. Instead, Tillerson groveled before Trump in an attempt to renew his vows with the president.
Tillerson insisted that there was no rift between him and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and that he had “partners and friends” throughout the administration. He denied NBC’s report that he had considered resigning and that Mike Pence had convinced him to stay. Most humiliatingly, he was forced to write a love letter to Trump himself.
“Let me tell you about this president, who I did not know before taking this office,” he said. “He loves this country. He puts America first. He’s smart. He demands results wherever he goes and he holds those around him accountable for doing the job he’s asked them to do. Accountability is one of the values that both of us share.” [Emphasis added.]
Tillerson then refused to deny that he had called the smart president a “moron.” Meanwhile, additional reporting from NBC indicates that Tillerson actually called Trump a “fucking moron.”
Tillerson staying on is important, sure. But the real story here is that the secretary of state had to hold a press conference to tell the public that the president, who he knows is a moron, is smart.