About a year ago, the New York Times reported that Donald Trump wasn’t altogether pleased with Defense Secretary James Mattis, who had repeatedly disagreed with the president on policy and personnel matters. The article added, “Trump has reminded people around him that he regards Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star general, as ‘a Democrat’ who is more liberal on many issues than he is.”
Thirteen months later, the president is saying publicly what he used to say privately. Consider this exchange from last night’s “60 Minutes” interview between Trump and CBS News’ Lesley Stahl.
STAHL: What about General Mattis? Is he going to leave?
TRUMP: Well, I don’t know. He hasn’t told me that. I have–
STAHL: Do you want him to–
TRUMP: –a very good relationship with him. It could be that he is. I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you wanna know the truth.
Well, we do “wanna know the truth,” and the truth is that Mattis, a retired general, has never been overtly partisan. He did, however, clash with the Obama administration over U.S. policy toward Iran, and Mattis agreed to join a Republican president’s cabinet. None of this suggests he’s “sort of a Democrat.”
On the contrary, he’s generally adopted mainstream GOP views on international institutions and the United States’ place in the world. It’s precisely what Trump dislikes.
Later in the same interview, in reference to NATO, the president added, “Frankly, I like General Mattis. I think I know more about it than he does.”
He really doesn’t. The list of topics Trump pretends to understand is long, but NATO is near the top of that list.
As relevant as these details are, the larger point, of course, is that there’s a sizable rift between the president and his Pentagon chief – and it’s increasingly easy to believe that Mattis’ cabinet role may not last much longer.
Indeed, though Trump wasn’t specific during the “60 Minutes” interview, he conceded there are some in his cabinet that he’s “not happy with” and “not thrilled with.”
Evidently, Mattis is among them. After all, the president considers many Democrats to be “evil” and part of a dangerous “mob.” For Trump to see the Defense secretary as “sort of a Democrat” is one of the fiercest insults available to him.
For the better part of two years, Trump has ignored much of Mattis’ sound advice, and by some accounts, Mattis has in turn ignored many of the president’s most ridiculous orders. It’s long appeared to be an unsustainable combination.
And now it appears Trump is willing to share his concerns about Mattis with the public, pointing to a likely end of their misplaced partnership.