the national interest

Trump Furious Tillerson Refused to Deny Calling Him a Moron

Rex Tillerson: I’m with stupid. Photo: Pool/Getty Images

On Wednesday, NBC News reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had grown furious with President Trump: Tillerson described him in one meeting as a “moron” and had to be talked out of resigning. Following the report, Tillerson held a press conference to deny that he had considered resigning, but pointedly failed to deny having called Trump a moron. Now NBC reports that Trump is furious that Tillerson essentially confirmed having called him a moron.

“The secretary’s refusal to deny that he had called the president a ‘moron’ in his opening statement and in his responses to questions from reporters stoked Trump’s anger and widened the rift between the two men,” sources tell the network.

That could certainly be a point of tension in a relationship, yes.

Presumably almost everybody who works for Trump considers him a moron. Even the most committed of Trump’s underlings see him as a kind of tool they can manipulate for their own ends. Bannon, the Trumpiest person who has worked in the administration — and the most likely source of the leak snitching on Tillerson — once referred to Trump as a “blunt instrument” for his movement. Typically, when you liken a person to a blunt instrument, you are not describing a genius. (“Dumb as a rock,” “not the sharpest tool in the shed,” “dumber than a box of hammers,” etc.)

But the trick of working for a powerful moron is not to say that they’re a moron in front of them or anybody who has an incentive to convey your comments to them. And if you are caught, you probably need to make a convincing denial, so that the president is not left in the awkward position of having a secretary of State who is publicly known to have called him a moron. This is just the kind of basic principle of diplomacy that ought to be familiar to, say, the United States government’s head diplomat.

Trump Furious Tillerson Refused to Deny Calling Him a Moron