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Why Doesn’t Tillerson Quit?

Tillerson’s resignation would not fix anything [1] with U.S. foreign policy, but it isn’t clear why he hasn’t quit yet if this report [2] is remotely accurate:

The frustrations run both ways. Tillerson stunned a handful of senior administration officials when he called the president a “moron” [bold mine-DL] after a tense two-hour long meeting in a secure room at the Pentagon called “The Tank,” according to three officials who were present or briefed on the incident. The July 20 meeting came a day after a meeting in the White House Situation Room on Afghanistan policy where Trump rattled his national security advisers by suggesting he might fire the top U.S. commander of the war and comparing the decision-making process on troop levels to the renovation of a high-end New York restaurant, according to participants in the meeting.

It is unclear whether Trump was told of Tillerson’s outburst after the Pentagon meeting or to what extent the president was briefed on Tillerson’s plan to resign earlier in the year.

Tillerson also has complained about being publicly undermined by the president on the administration’s foreign policy agenda, officials said.


Tillerson’s frustrations are very understandable, and the cause of those frustrations isn’t going to go away. The problems plaguing U.S. foreign policy under Trump aren’t going to be solved with his resignation, but Tillerson’s problem of being routinely embarrassed and undermined would be. That makes it difficult to see what he hopes to accomplish by sticking around. Unlike Sessions, who seems to be willing to accept public humiliation by Trump as the price of getting to implement at least some of his desired agenda, Tillerson doesn’t appear to be getting anything for his trouble except more grief.

Dan DePetris notes in his semi-defense [3] of the Secretary of State that no one else in that position in the last 25 years has been “subjected to such vitriol as Rex Tillerson in the first nine months of the job.” That much seems indisputable, which makes his determination to stay on in the job all the more puzzling. He reportedly didn’t want the job, he doesn’t really need the job, he can’t possibly be enjoying it, by most accounts he isn’t good at it, and the longer he stays the more humiliations he is likely to endure at the president’s hands. According to the report, Mattis and Kelly begged him to stay on when he was considering resignation this summer. Their appeals seem to have worked so far, but at some point they won’t be enough.

19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "Why Doesn’t Tillerson Quit?"

#1 Comment By PyRex On October 4, 2017 @ 7:23 am

I hope Tillerson swallows his pride and sticks with it, like the “adult” I think he is. He’s the only member of this administration who comes anywhere near the Bush-the-Elder standard. We need him.

#2 Comment By Yellow Dog On October 4, 2017 @ 7:46 am

Well of course Trump is a “moron”, as is completely self evident to, as my grandfather would say, “anyone with one eye and half sense”. That Tillerson acknowledges this fact just reinforces my belief that he’s one of the few in this administration who is relatively sane.

I agree that that it’s hard to see what he gets out of this, other than the satisfaction of performing service to the republic. I for one am glad for him to continue serving in the administration as a representative of the reality based community for as long as he’s willing.

#3 Comment By Jay C On October 4, 2017 @ 10:21 am

He reportedly didn’t want the job, he doesn’t really need the job, he can’t possibly be enjoying it, by most accounts he isn’t good at it, and the longer he stays the more humiliations he is likely to endure at the president’s hands.

While all these points regarding Sec’y Tillerson may be quite correct, one issue which has to be kept in mind is that, no matter how “bad” Exxon Rex may be in his job, with Donald Trump as President, who is likely to replace him at State?
We should be careful what we wish for: who knows what sort of character Donald Trump would nominate to take Tillerson’s place?

#4 Comment By GregR On October 4, 2017 @ 10:53 am

While I think Tillerson was a bad pick from the beginning I just can’t see any good options from letting him go. Haley is turning out to be a lunatic, and since she is the most likely to replace him….

Frankly I can’t see what he gets out of it either, the only thing I can imagine that keeps him going to work in the mornings is the fear that were he to leave there wouldn’t be any adults left in the room to try and constrain the child at the head of the table.

#5 Comment By Dan Green On October 4, 2017 @ 10:58 am

While the media is suspect what they produce and market, word has it Tillerson never wanted the job in the first place. He preferred his ranch and grandchildren.

#6 Comment By rayray On October 4, 2017 @ 11:23 am

I agree that amongst the FinCEN police line up that is the Trump gang Tillerson is one of the most capable.

That said, we desperately need someone with the experience, diplomatic or otherwise, to re-build the State Department, to encourage qualified people to join up, to build the expertise of the whole enterprise. The problem is that now more than ever canny and principled diplomacy is the way forward on nearly every problem we are facing.

Tillerson has international experience, but no government or State Department experience.

John Kerry would be great. Is he too busy…?

#7 Comment By CharleyCarp On October 4, 2017 @ 11:39 am

It wouldn’t surprise me if he thought (a) his replacement would not be better for the country and (b) there’s at least some slim chance that we’ll luck out, and there will be some sort of foreign policy victory he can take credit for, and only then leave.

I can see lots of reasons for believing that (a) is true. It’s also possible, though, that the next SecState might, in time, resist WH orders to dismantle the Department a little better. A more dynamic personality. On the other hand, the President seems as likely to just leave the position open and let his son-in-law handle all the ceremonial duties.

#8 Comment By swb On October 4, 2017 @ 11:50 am

I guess I could see him staying around if he had the experience and knew what he was doing. There are good reasons to have a functioning state department, regardless of what policies the president has. Many of those people have served presidents across several administrations. What is clear is that he is a terrible administrator of his department and has no clue what he is doing. It is almost like he failed up in the corporate world, then was put in charge of state by someone that had even fewer ideas as to what the state department does.

If he is replaced, what exactly will that accomplish? I am not sure that a functioning state department effectively lead by someone that is as unhinged as his boss would be an improvement. There are worse things than incompetence, malice is one of them.

#9 Comment By Omar On October 4, 2017 @ 12:55 pm

He may not need the job, but what else has he got to do in his life? He already accomplished so much. He has no other chance of holding such an important office. No other job will appeal to him after this.

#10 Comment By Hal Fiore On October 4, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

But he also has an agenda, and he has yet to finish the dismantling of the State Dept., and totally demoralizing its staff.

#11 Comment By balconesfault On October 4, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

@PyRex I don’t think Tillerson being an adult or not really matters much, when any agreement that he makes with a foreign nation will often be mooted within days by a Presidential tweet … and any confidence that a foreign diplomat shares with him, assuming that he faithfully relays the information to POTUS (as his job description would dictate he do), will often become public knowledge within days via a Presidential tweet.

I’d assume that this reality gives him far less standing and respect among most foreign governments than he had as Exxon CEO.

What’s more, it’s clear that the President will at his convenience lie to the public about discussions between himself and his Sec of State … further diminishing Tillerson in the public eye.

I understand why Jefferson Sessions remains in his job, despite public humiliation. He has a list of enemies to be punished, social justice wars to wage, and partisan political goals to be achieved – and Trump pretty much lets him go off and do with the Justice Department what he wants.

But I’m not really sure why Tillerson would debase himself at this stage of his career.

#12 Comment By JK On October 4, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

If T-Rex goes, Nikki Haley is up next.

#13 Comment By Ollie On October 4, 2017 @ 1:17 pm

The evidence of Trump’s imbecility is monumental and serial. According to some, Tillerson may have been prompted to reveal his true assessment of Trump as a result of the president’s insane ranting to the Boy Scouts in late July. But one need not look far to find numerous additional proofs of Trump’s mental incapacity for this job.
Why just view the video of Trump’s trip to Puerto Rico yesterday. Who goes to a disaster area and urges the victims there to “HAVE FUN” as Trump did ? It is ironic as well as moronic. Help us !

#14 Comment By Hyperion On October 4, 2017 @ 2:05 pm

The really scary thing is that Pence succeeds Trump, assuming someone/something can get/force Trump to step down. Pence is actually more of a disaster than Trump. Yeah, think about that for a moment.

#15 Comment By One Guy On October 4, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

It’s possible that Tillerson sees himself working for President Pence in a few months.

#16 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On October 4, 2017 @ 6:33 pm

My guess is that Mattis & co appealed to patriotism—don’t let the impulsive moron sink the ship.

#17 Comment By Hexexis On October 4, 2017 @ 7:33 pm

I’d reckon that these folks still in the admin. after all these months are the ones that truly believed the Trumpster was manageable: romantic idealism at its zenith!

What really’s astounding, tho, is that the press still feebly chants the “businessman-deal maker-negotiator-populist” mantra, when none of those labels’ve been even remotely evident since ol’ DJT became a known quantity, 40 or so years ago.

#18 Comment By Thaomas On October 4, 2017 @ 9:20 pm

His replacement is likely to be far worse. No one will begrudge him for brown-nosing President Trump to keep the job. It’s actually heroic.

#19 Comment By liberal On October 5, 2017 @ 9:14 am

Hyperion wrote,

Pence is actually more of a disaster than Trump. Yeah, think about that for a moment.

Yes and no. As a liberal-left Democrat, I think that in some average sense, Pence would be worse for the country. He’d probably work better with the crazies in Congress and do more damage that way.

However, for “tail events,” not-likely-but-not-terribly-unlikely, like getting us into a pointless war with NK, Trump’s probably worse.

Seems like a case of “choose your poison.”