Last evening, President Trump’s first Defense secretary, James Mattis, wrote a scathing op-ed describing his former boss as a threat to the Constitution and lacking the maturity to govern. In response to these charges, possibly the most devastating indictment any Cabinet official has ever made of a president who appointed them to office, Trump characteristically advanced a series of countercharges:
Let us examine the argument in its constituent elements. First, Trump claims to have fired Mattis. In fact, Mattis resigned his position. At the time of his retirement, Trump praised him and said he was “retiring with distinction”:
Second, Trump described Mattis as “the world’s most overrated general.” This is a very different assessment than the generous one Trump made upon Mattis’s retirement. It also raises questions as to why Trump hired Mattis in the first place. Since his career as a general entirely preceded his tenure as secretary of Defense, it would seem to be a major error by Trump that he selected the world’s most overrated general for such an important position.
Third, Trump undercut what is (in Trump’s branding-obsessed mind) Mattis’s most valuable attribute (the nickname “Mad Dog”) by claiming that Trump himself came up with it. In fact, the nickname can be found in innumerable news accounts going back at least 20 years.
Finally, and most curiously, Trump claims Mattis “seldom ‘brought home the bacon.’” It is not clear what bacon he was supposed to have brought home but failed, unless perhaps Trump is accusing Mattis of failing to spend enough money at Trump-owned properties, as other officials have done.
To summarize the debate between the two men: Mattis claims Trump lacks the maturity and respect for the Constitution necessary to serve as president. Trump responds that he made an enormous error in selecting his first Defense secretary, who in addition to lacking qualifications for the job, has inappropriately claimed credit for a nickname Trump devised. Notably, Trump is not contesting either of Mattis’s claims about his unfitness for office, and seems instead to be confirming them.