Oct 15, 2018 - Politics & Policy

Losing Mattis would be costly for Trump


Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump has clearly soured on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and top Republicans and Democrats both tell me his departure would be particularly costly for the White House — and a disturbing sign for outsiders.

The big picture: A former aide who can read Trump like a book told me: "His tone on Mattis is really striking. ... Will be worth watching whether he's just brushing him back and moving on, or if he launches a sustained effort to get him to quit." And if Mattis departs on anything other than the most cordial terms, confirming a successor will be fraught.

But here's something aides may not have told the president: People who know Mattis tell me that he won't stay around to be abused and humiliated like Attorney General Jeff Sessions has.

  • If "Mad Dog" Mattis, as Trump calls him, is convinced that the president is shorting his stock, the retired four-star Marine general could leave abruptly.

After recent rumblings of frayed relations with Mattis, Trump's comments on "60 Minutes" last night sent a signal to the world — including allies who depend on the U.S. for their defense — that the Pentagon chief may be a short-timer.

  • Based on an early clip from CBS News, we told you yesterday about Trump's devastating remark to correspondent Lesley Stahl that Mattis is "sort of a Democrat, if you wanna know the truth. ... He may leave."

But it turns out there was more:

  • Stahl: "Is it true General Mattis said to you, 'The reason for NATO and the reason for all these alliances is to prevent World War III?'"
  • Trump: "No, it's not true. ... Frankly, I like General Mattis. I think I know more about it than he does. And I know more about it from the standpoint of fairness, that I can tell you."
  • Stahl: "I'm gonna try one more time."
  • Trump: "Lesley, you don't have to try again. I know exactly what you're saying. ... I will always be there with NATO, but they have to pay their way. I'm fully in favor of NATO, but I don't wanna be taken advantage of."

Be smart: Mattis is a linchpin of what we call the Committee to Save America — an unofficial alliance of officials who see it as their patriotic duty to protect Trump and the nation from disaster.

  • When I asked a well-wired Democrat how worrisome Mattis' departure would be, he replied: "Number one by far. Super scary."
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