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.