Do you feel like the White House Cabinet Room has turned into some kind of revolving door? It’s not just your imagination. Trump has fired more cabinet members at the start of his term than any other president in the last 100 years, according to an NPR analysis.
And that’s just looking at the Senate-confirmable positions in the presidential cabinet — not the overall turmoil within the Trump team at large.
In addition to Rex Tillerson – fired via Twitter this month — the administration has released former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, who took a post at the White House as Chief of Staff, replacing Reince Priebus. At this rate, it seems likely that Trump will catch up with President Ronald Reagan, who fired four cabinet members in his first two years.
NPR research has also identified unusually high turnover among White House senior staff, including advisors, communications directors and staff secretaries. While high-profile individuals like Hope Hicks, Steve Bannon, Gary Cohn and Rob Porter have captured headlines, they haven’t been the only ones — and that’s without even delving into the loss of senior FBI officials and leaders of non-cabinet agencies. Vanishing senior staffers often take their support personnel with them as well, creating a domino effect when someone leaves.
The high turnover in the Trump team may reflect a number of factors. While it’s common for presidents to appoint seasoned, experienced people to their initial cabinets in the hopes of pushing through key initiatives, Trump opted for individuals who weren’t necessarily suitable — sometimes explicitly selecting people on the basis of “outsider status.” And that seems to have become a problem, with officials struggling to manage their agencies effectively and efficiently.
Trump is also notoriously volatile, and some personnel may have been pushed out of the cabinet and the White House because their priorities no longer aligned with his expectations. The president’s decision to conduct considerable business over Twitterrather than via more conventional avenues highlights this issue: Trump’s career has prepared him for public performance and attention, but not necessarily the managerial skills needed in the Oval Office.
Losing senior staffers and cabinet members on a regular basis threatens national stability and security. The benefit of political experience is deep familiarity with the issues facing government agencies, paired with the knowledge of how to address these challenges. When senior personnel and their staff leave, it can create a vacuum that leaves agencies stumbling to meet their obligations.
Things are chaotic enough during presidential transitions, as the entire federal government undergoes an overhaul — and losing agency heads little more than a year into a presidency can be demoralizing.
Some turnover in the federal government is entirely normal; it’s not uncommon for people to leave positions when they’re promoted to roles elsewhere in the federal government, for example. And for two-term presidents, few ranking personnel and staffers make it all the way through eight years of service. But signs of instability in the halls of power are worrying — they can suggest problems with morale, or a presidency that isn’t certain which direction to take things, leaving staff unsure about how to accomplish tasks.
Some may spin the high turnover as evidence of “draining the swamp” or further proof of outsider or renegade status. But the only thing it’s proof of is disorganization: The president hasn’t accomplished many of the goals he proclaimed would be key to his first year in office, and organizational dysfunction is one reason why.