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Why Mattis' Resignation 'Puts Trump's Presidency in Peril'

Pundits weigh in
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2018 6:21 AM CST
Updated Dec 21, 2018 6:57 AM CST
In this Sept. 21, 2018, file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks during the 2018 POW/MIA National Recognition Day Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, file)

(Newser) – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will step down from his post by the end of February, and his resignation letter made clear that his lack of alignment with President Trump drove the decision. Here's how the news is being received by pundits:

  • Fred Kaplan, Slate: Kaplan takes issue with Trump's tweet on Mattis' exit which said he was "retiring, with distinction." That's not what administration officials do—they resign, and Mattis is doing so "with bitterness and fatigue." Kaplan takes a historical view and writes that the last time a Cabinet secretary resigned over a president's policies was four decades ago, when Jimmy Carter's secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, quit in the aftermath of the failed rescue attempt of US hostages in Iran.
  • Jim Hanson, Fox News: Hanson zeroes in on the policy angle, writing that many of Trump's detractors "thought having Mattis as the brake on Trump’s action-oriented nature was a good thing. But we don’t elect presidents to have their subordinates stop them from implementing their policies. ... It is unacceptable for the president to be prevented from leading the nation by Cabinet members not on board with his agenda."

  • Eli Lake, Bloomberg: Lake notes that Trump supporters, now accustomed to the exit of officials close to Trump, might feel "unfazed" by the news. But this case is different, and one that he believes "puts Trump's presidency in peril." Mattis acted as a "powerful shield. Whatever you thought of his views, Mattis embodied military virtue and the spirit of public service. As long as he served the president, reluctant Republicans could point to the Pentagon and say: If Mattis supports Trump, then so do I. They can no longer do that."
  • Perry Bacon Jr., FiveThirtyEight: Bacon has a similar view, calling the resignation "the latest sign of a fissure between Trump and the Republican establishment." He runs down the initial appointments Trump made that "showed powerful constituencies in the Republican Party—the military, congressional Republicans, Wall Street—that he respected and would work with them" (Reince Priebus and Gary Cohen among them). Trump seems less concerned "these days [about] placating establishment interests," perhaps to his detriment. He's "benefited from strong support from Republicans on Capitol Hill, particularly the collective GOP decision to basically shrug off" the scandals touching him. "But parting ways with someone like Mattis, who is well-respected among congressional Republicans, is not helpful in maintaining those alliances."
  • Daniel Larison, American Conservative: Larison writes that while Trump and Mattis' divergent views on Syria is featuring in plenty of articles, it's "important to remember that when it came to the most indefensible US-backed war he and Trump were always on the same page. ... He presided over two years of shameful support for the Saudi coalition war on Yemen, and he went out of his way to offer absurd justifications for continued US support for the war to the end of his tenure. ... An administration that fights as hard as this has to keep the war on Yemen going is definitely not one interested in peace and restraint no matter what else happens."
  • Allahpundit, Hot Air: Allahpundit's take: Buckle your seat belts, essentially. Mattis, along with John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, and HR McMaster, was viewed as one of the "adults in the room" when it came to keeping "Trump from steering off the foreign-policy road." That foursome is weeks away from a complete exit. "We're going full MAGA, just as Democrats are taking power in the House. What a war next year is going to be."
(Read more Lt. Gen. James Mattis stories.)

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