A striking number of former members of Donald Trump's team, especially in areas of national security, have recently stepped up to condemn the president, endorse his opponent, or both. Former White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has been careful not to join them.
It's not that the retired three-star Army general has defended the Republican incumbent, but McMaster has rather gone out of his way to say very little about his former boss. McMaster's recent book was panned by some precisely because it offered few insights into his work in the West Wing.
But as Election Day draws closer, and Trump's hostility toward democracy becomes even more overt, former members of the president's team are facing a now-or-never moment: do they step up and alert the public to the dangers Trump poses, or do they keep their concerns to themselves, leaving the door closed?
McMaster remains cautious to a fault, but he's starting to open the door, at least a little.
In a new interview with The Atlantic's Peter Nicholas, Trump's former national security adviser offered his first public criticisms of Trump -- which were, to be sure, guarded, but were criticisms nevertheless. McMaster expressed his dissatisfaction, for example, with Trump's refusal to condemn white nationalists, saying, "We need leaders who can bring us back together and generate confidence in our identity as Americans and as human beings."
In context, the implication seemed to be that Trump is not acting as that kind of leader. He added that the president's debate performance offered 'a poor example of democracy."
McMaster went on to say, "I don't think Donald Trump invented these divisions. But he certainly doesn't do as much as he could to lessen those divisions and bring us back together." He added that the president "undervalues" the benefits of our international alliances.
This morning, McMaster also spoke with MSNBC's Hallie Jackson and said Trump is "aiding and abetting" Russian efforts to undermine public confidence in the U.S. electoral system. Politico reported:
"I agree that he is aiding and abetting Putin's efforts by not being direct about this, right? By not just calling out Putin for what he's doing," McMaster said. "You know, Putin gets away with, I mean, literally murder or attempted murder … because people don't call him out on it," he added. "And so they are able to continue with this kind of firehose of falsehood, to sow these conspiracy theories. And we just can't be our own worst enemies."
In context, the former White House national security adviser was referring to Trump's lies about voter fraud and mail-in balloting.
By any measure, it was a clear break with McMaster's recent silence on matters related to the president. Maybe Trump's debate performance was a bridge too far for the retired general; maybe McMaster has reevaluated his sense of duty and what the times require.
Either way, it'll be worth watching to see whether he's prepared to open the door further -- and whether his former boss starts lashing out accordingly.