the national interest

Is Trump About to Trigger a Cabinet ‘Suicide Pact’?

Suicide squad? Photo: Pool/Getty Images

Morongate (or, if you prefer, the Moron-Contra scandal) has left President Trump’s relationship with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson understandably tense. Axios reports that not only is Trump’s confidence in Tillerson “broken beyond repair,” the president is floating a succession plan to move CIA director Mike Pompeo into Tillerson’s job. There is, however, one catch.

Earlier this week, John Hudson reported that the firing of Tillerson would trigger the exodus of two other Trump cabinet officials. Hudson’s source, he wrote, “expressed confidence in Tillerson’s status due to a so-called ‘suicide pact’ forged between Defense Secretary James Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Tillerson, whereby all three cabinet secretaries vow to leave in the event that the president makes moves against one of them.”

There are plenty of reasons for skepticism that this suicide pact would actually hold. For one thing, the reason Mattis is working his job is clearly to protect the country from the massive risks to world stability and the rule of law posed by Trump. The exodus of other cabinet officials wouldn’t make this motivation any less compelling, it would make it more compelling. For another, the other two might well make a distinction between a completely random rage-firing and a firing for a justifiable cause like, say, refusing to deny that you called the president a moron — which, even if Trump is a moron, is the kind of statement a cabinet secretary can’t stand behind.
Plus, of course, there’s the weird question of what Steve Mnuchin is doing in this group. The presumed characteristics defining the suicide-pact team are some essential role in safeguarding the functions of government, and a presumed disgust with Trump’s ignorance and/or bigotry. Mnuchin would appear to satisfy neither criteria. He has publicly affirmed Trump’s rants about Charlottesville and the NFL protests, which have disgusted even many otherwise pliant Republicans. And his value to the government ranges from negligible to minus-$800,000. Finding a Treasury secretary with a better grasp of conservative policy and a less embarrassing wife seems very doable.

But, still, the suicide pact might well be a real thing. If so, the question becomes whether the three use the threat to safeguard Tillerson’s job, or whether the cabinet is about to see a mass exodus.

Is Trump About to Trigger a Cabinet ‘Suicide Pact’?