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List of harsh Trump critics from Trump’s own team keeps growing

History offers plenty of examples of presidents who’ve clashed with some members of their own team, but we’ve never seen anything quite like this.


During his tenure as Defense secretary, Mark Esper had very little to say about Donald Trump. As the former Pentagon chief’s book reaches shelves, Esper is suddenly far less reticent.

It was a week ago, for example, when we learned about a 2020 incident in which the then-president raised the prospect of shooting American protesters in the legs. A few days later, the public became aware of Trump’s repeated willingness to launch Patriot missiles into Mexico.

Last night, Esper appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” and argued that it’s important for Americans to understand that the people around Trump prevented the then-president from doing “really bad things,” “dangerous things,” and steps that “could have taken the country in a dark direction.”

The former Defense secretary added, “These ideas would happen, it seemed, every few weeks.” Radical proposals — military action against Venezuela, a blockade against Cuba, etc. — “would come up and we’d have to swat ‘em down.”

The interview came on the heels of the former Pentagon chief telling The New York Times that Trump should not hold elected office.

Pressed on his view of Mr. Trump, Mr. Esper — who strained throughout the book to be fair to the man who fired him while also calling out his increasingly erratic behavior after his first impeachment trial ended in February 2020 — said carefully but bluntly, “He is an unprincipled person who, given his self-interest, should not be in the position of public service.”

Last night, “60 Minutes” released a written statement the show received from the former president, which was rather personal. Esper, according to Trump, was “weak” and a “lightweight.” Trump effectively claimed that he singlehandedly led the U.S. military because of Esper’s ineffectiveness. He twice slammed Esper as a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only).

If the mockery sounds familiar, it’s because Trump has used similar phrasing to deal with many of the other former members of his team who’ve since denounced the former president.

Indeed, it’s an extraordinary list. Former Attorney General William Barr, for example, recently rejected the idea of Trump returning to the White House. Former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton hasn’t just denounced Trump, last week Bolton agreed that the former president would be a national security threat to the United States if given a second term.

John Kelly, meanwhile, served as Trump’s White House chief of staff for 17 months, working side-by-side with the then-president every day in the West Wing. Now, Kelly can barely contain his visceral contempt for Trump.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, they have plenty of company. In June 2020, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, wrote a rather extraordinary rebuke of Trump, condemning the president for being divisive, immature, and cavalier about abusing his powers. Two weeks later, Bolton concluded that the then-president was not “fit for office.”

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shared some uncomplimentary thoughts of his own about Trump. According to the nation’s former chief diplomat, the then-president is “pretty undisciplined,” “doesn’t like to read,” and “often” urged Tillerson to pursue policies that were inconsistent with American laws.

And these are just the top-level officials who served at the cabinet level. The list grows much longer if we include other federal officials who worked with Trump just below the cabinet level.

Every president has faced criticisms from partisan rivals and critics in the press, but it’s qualitatively different to hear from officials who were part of Trump’s own team.

Many of these former officials had a front-row seat, watching how the Republican tried to lead, how he processed information, how he evaluated evidence, and how he made decisions.

And now that these men and women have left the administration and had an opportunity to reflect on their time on Team Trump, they’re eager to let the public know that Trump is unsuited for national leadership.

History offers plenty of examples of presidents who’ve clashed with one aide or another, but we’ve never seen anything like this.

Postscript: In his odd written statement to CBS, Trump addressed the controversy surrounding missile strikes against our Mexican neighbors by saying, “No comment.”

Amidst a series of literally unbelievable denials and fabrications, Trump didn’t want to deny the story about striking Mexico, presumably because (a) it’s true; and (b) he sees some political upside to having people believe it’s true.