Hicks, Trump’s longest-serving aide who rose to the position of White House communications director, said last week she was resigning, a day after she reportedly told the House Intelligence Committee that she sometimes told “white lies” on Trump’s behalf. Dina Powell, the respected deputy national security adviser, left in January to return to Goldman Sachs. Tom Price, the former secretary for Health and Human Services, resigned last fall amid criticism of his use of privately charted planes, as well as military aircraft, for official travel. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, was fired last fall amid reports the president was unhappy with him. Reince Preibus, the White House chief of staff, was fired last summer. Mike Flynn, the president’s national security adviser, was the administration’s first major casualty. He was fired after less than a month on the job for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington. There were other departures as well, including that of Rob Porter, Omarosa Manigault-Newman, Sebastian Gorka, Anthony Scaramucci, Sean Spicer, and Mike Dubke.
It is worth pointing out that all of Trump’s picks for Cabinet positions—whether or not they are reported to be in the president’s favor—are still in their jobs, save Price. (The average tenure of a Cabinet official since 1981 is 4.08 years, according to a Washington Post analysis; the figure for a secretary of state is 3.35 years.) But among those Cabinet officials, it was Tillerson’s name that cropped up most often for a quick exit. It didn’t help that the secretary of state’s plan to overhaul the U.S. State Department was met with internal opposition and poor morale, or that he rarely gave interviews, and doesn’t seem happy doing news conferences. That private nature might have worked well when he was CEO of ExxonMobil, but it appeared not to be as effective for the nation’s top diplomat parrying not only with America’s adversaries, but also his own foes in the administration.
“The secretary is laser focused on solving the big problems,” R.C. Hammond, who served as senior adviser to Tillerson for public affairs until last December, said in an email. “He isn’t interested in winning political skirmishes.”
Perhaps that’s why it sometimes seems Tillerson won’t survive those skirmishes. He was an unusual person for the job—if highly recommended by both Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, and Robert Gates, the former defense secretary. Prior to becoming secretary of state, he’d spent his entire career at Exxon, joining as an engineer in 1975 after getting his degree at the University of Texas at Austin, and becoming CEO in 2006. Along the way, he lived around the world in places where Exxon had commercial interests, including in Russia, Yemen, and Southeast Asia. During that time, he built relationships with individuals who are now kings, presidents, ministers, and senior officials in their own countries. He told CBS in a recent interview that he saw his job as secretary of state as, evoking the Code of the West, “riding for the brand.” And, he said, “the State Department of the United States government. The American people are my brand.” Even critics of what Tillerson has done at the State Department have at times credited his diplomacy around the world. One of those critics is Laura Kennedy, who served at the State Department for four decades until 2015 under both Republican and Democratic administrations. She said Tillerson’s stewardship of the State Department “terrible,” but added: “I’ve always believed he’s a man of decency and intelligence and accomplishments.” Kennedy described Tillerson’s foreign-policy views as being on “the sensible end of the spectrum.”