Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Tillerson's right, y'all

Multiple sources inside the Trump administration have confirmed that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did indeed call President Trump a "moron" last summer and that he had to be talked out of resigning. In a hastily called press conference Wednesday, Tillerson was forced to respond to try to keep his job.

No, Tillerson said, he had never contemplated resignation. But when given the opportunity, he did not deny the "moron" remark and instead tried to dismiss the question as petty. It was left to a State Department spokesman to later issue the second-hand denial that Tillerson could not bring himself to utter personally.

Then there was the Puerto Rico thing. In an interview with Fox News this week, Trump made the extraordinary announcement that the $73 billion in debt owed by Puerto Rico would have to be wiped off the books as part of the island's hurricane recovery.

"They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we're going to have to wipe that out," Trump said. "That's going to have to be — you can say goodbye to that. I don't know if it's Goldman Sachs (who holds the debt), but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that."

Wall Street panicked, sending the price of Puerto Rico's bonds plummeting, and Mick Mulvaney of the White House Office of Management and Budget had to step in.

"I wouldn't take it word for word," Mulvaney said of Trump's announcement, and by not taking it "word for word," he was basically telling the world not to pay attention to that man wandering around in the MAGA hat because the addled old guy has no idea what's going on.

"I think what you heard the president say is that Puerto Rico is going to have to figure out a way to solve its debt problem," as Mulvaney put it.

No, that is not at all what we heard him say.

Then there was Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the more respected Republicans in Washington. When asked about Tillerson this week, Corker said that it was critical to the country that he and others remain in office.

"I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary (of Defense James) Mattis and chief of staff (John) Kelly are those people who help separate our country from chaos, and I support them very much," Corker said.

He was then asked whether Trump is the source of that chaos that threatens our country.

"(Tillerson, Mattis and Kelly) work very well together to make sure that the policies that we put forth around the world are sound and coherent," Corker responded. "There are other people within the administration that don't, OK?"

OK. Message received.

It's worth noting that while Corker urges Tillerson and others to remain at their posts as guardians against the chaos, he himself will not. His home state of Tennessee went for Trump by 26 percentage points, so rather than fight the battle ahead, Corker has decided against seeking re-election.

Which brings us to Nick Ayers, who made his name as a Republican political consultant here in Georgia and now serves as chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. According to a leaked audio recording, Ayers this week urged top Republican donors to take out anybody in the GOP who dares to question or challenge Trump, a step that would pretty much complete its transformation into a personality cult.

“Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him," Ayers said. "If — and this sounds crass — we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him.”

Yes. Just imagine the possibilities.




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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.