Current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s relationship with President Trump appears to be broken beyond repair. Tillerson’s bizarre Wednesday press conference was a characteristically inept attempt at staunching the bleeding. While he insisted that the president was “smart” and that everything was actually fine, Tillerson pointedly refused to deny that he called the president a “moron.” Trump, already furious that Tillerson had taken media attention away from his trip to Las Vegas, surely noticed. And on Friday, Axios reported that “the relationship is so toxic... that few in the White House think it can be rebuilt. There’s zero trust between the West Wing and the State Department.”
It’s unlikely that a change is imminent—after a spate of firings and resignations, Chief of Staff John Kelly is reportedly “discouraging high-level departures before next year.” But Tillerson will be out before too long. Regardless of when Tillerson goes—if it’s tomorrow or in three months—it’s worth pointing out how extraordinary this is. In any other administration, the Secretary of State leaving after a year would be an enormously troubling omen—in the Trump administration it’s just one of many cabinet reshuffles.
One rumored candidate for Secretary of State is current UN ambassador Nikki Haley. But on Friday morning Axios reported that people close to Trump have a new name in mind—according to Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan, advisers are “floating the idea” of replacing Tillerson with current CIA chief Mike Pompeo.
It’s hard to think of a situation worse than the current one, in which the secretary of state handling negotiations with North Korea (and, perhaps soon, the fallout from a planned “decertification” of the Iran nuclear deal) is not on speaking terms with the president—and in which that president scuttles the secretary’s diplomatic efforts via Twitter. But a Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would be far worse than a Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. A longtime Koch ally, Pompeo has described the War on Terror as a clash between Christianity and Islam and defended the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. A foreign policy hawk, Pompeo has also advocated that Ed Snowden receive the death penalty. He weaves together two of the worst and most pervasive threads of the Trump administration: its coziness with corporate interests (he received more Koch money than any other Congressman in 2010) and its xenophobia.
It’s true that Pompeo could bring more credibility to the State Department: unlike Tillerson, he has the president’s ear, and he is unlikely to lose it. But any proximity would come at an enormous cost: even grading on a Trumpian curve, Pompeo would be an enormously destructive force—far more hawkish than Tillerson, the risk for global conflict is too high for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.