Are some of Trump’s key Cab­i­net mem­bers think­ing about aban­don­ing him?

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - OPINION - Am­ber Phillips

Two of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s high­est-rank­ing Cab­i­net of­fi­cials just took a gi­ant step back­ward from their boss, rais­ing the ques­tion of whether Trump’s in­ner cir­cle is se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing aban­don­ing him.

In sep­a­rate, jaw-drop­ping com­ments that made news over the week­end, De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son ap­peared to dis­tance them­selves from the pres­i­dent on his re­sponse to the Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, vi­o­lence and, per­haps, in gen­eral.

In a video that sur­faced on Face­book over the week­end of Mat­tis speak­ing to troops sta­tioned abroad last week, he urged them to “hold the line” and promised the coun­try would “get the power of in­spi­ra­tion back.”

“Our coun­try right now, it’s got prob­lems we don’t have in the mil­i­tary . . . You just hold the line un­til our coun­try gets back to un­der­stand­ing and re­spect­ing each other and show­ing it.”

“The power of in­spi­ra­tion we’ll get the power of in­spi­ra­tion back,” he later said. It’s not clear whom Mat­tis was speak­ing to, but he trav­eled to Jor­dan, Turkey and Ukraine last week and met with troops sta­tioned there.

Mat­tis never came out and said: “Your com­man­der in chief is fo­ment­ing di­vi­sions in this coun­try that the mil­i­tary must rise above,” but it was as close as this dis­ci­plined, apo­lit­i­cal for­mer Marine gen­eral was go­ing to get.

By the end of the week - as a dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­cane was mak­ing land­fall in Texas - Trump or­dered Mat­tis to ban trans­gen­der re­cruits from the mil­i­tary. Trump was fol­low­ing up on a prom­ise he made sud­denly, with­out Mat­tis’s aware­ness, on Twit­ter in July.

It’s not clear Mat­tis knew his com­ments were be­ing recorded, ap­par­ently by some­one in the au­di­ence, but it also doesn’t look like he in­tended to keep his dis­taste for the tenor of re­spect in the coun­try right now secret. Why else would he say some­thing that could re­motely be con­sid­ered a crit­i­cism of the com­man­der in chief any­where in pub­lic?

Tiller­son’s re­buke of Trump was even more di­rect. In an in­ter­view Sun­day with Fox News’s Chris Wal­lace, Tiller­son was asked if Trump’s “both sides” com­ment in the wake of racially charged Char­lottesville vi­o­lence speaks for Amer­i­can val­ues.

“The pres­i­dent speaks for him­self,” Tiller­son said flatly.

“Are you sep­a­rat­ing your­self from the pres­i­dent?” a stunned Wal­lace fol­lowed up.

“I’ve made my own com­ment as to our val­ues,” Tiller­son said. Ear­lier in the show, he had said: “We ex­press Amer­ica’s val­ues from the State Depart­ment - our com­mit­ment to free­dom, our com­mit­ment to equal treat­ment of peo­ple the world over,” adding, “And that mes­sage has never changed.”

This is big news. These aren’t GOP mem­bers of Congress dis­tanc­ing them­selves from a pres­i­dent they’ve se­cretly al­ways dis­liked. These are two of the high­est-rank­ing of­fi­cials in gov­ern­ment - who both agreed to be con­duits for Trump’s poli­cies and pres­i­dency - pub­licly dis­agree­ing with their boss on whether Amer­ica is go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

They are not the only Trump ad­vis­ers strug­gling to stand by him after Char­lottesville. Trump’s chief eco­nomic ad­viser, Gary Cohn, all but told the Fi­nan­cial Times in an in­ter­view last week that the pres­i­dent should have han­dled Char­lottesville bet­ter:

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion can and must do bet­ter in con­sis­tently and un­equiv­o­cally con­demn­ing these groups and do ev­ery­thing we can to heal the deep di­vi­sions that ex­ist in our com­mu­ni­ties,” Cohn said.

After Char­lottesville, Cohn was “mor­ti­fied” at Trump’s com­ments, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported, and it was an open ques­tion if he’d stay on.

Now, can you dis­agree with your boss on some things and still work with him on oth­ers? Sure. Mat­tis, Tiller­son and Cohn wouldn’t be the first or last pres­i­den­tial ad­vis­ers in that po­si­tion.

But it’s also rare for so many ad­vis­ers to speak out so pub­licly against their boss, and in such stark terms, on matters of such mag­ni­tude.

We aren’t talk­ing about pol­icy dis­agree­ments or per­son­nel food rights. We’re talk­ing about whether some of Trump’s high­est-rank­ing staff agree with him on the most fun­da­men­tal ques­tions: What are Amer­i­can val­ues? And does the pres­i­dent rep­re­sent them?

At least three of Trump’s top of­fi­cials are strug­gling to an­swer that. And from there it’s an easy ques­tion to ask whether they are or have con­sid­er­ing ditch­ing this pres­i­dent al­to­gether.

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