Amid the glut of news last night as the Capitol dug out from a right-wing riot and the Congress certified Joe Biden’s presidential victory, a familiar story cropped up in several outlets: Key Trump administration officials, it emerged, were considering resigning!
By morning, a few of them had actually taken the plunge: The first lady’s chief of staff, the White House social secretary, and a deputy national security advisor were out the door—leaving two weeks before President Trump’s term ended, something a Twitter wag analogized to burning your last two weeks of vacation time before taking a new job. This morning, former Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed that he, too, was out, resigning his part-time gig as a special envoy for Northern Ireland.
But, naturally, the people who have thus far quit occupy less august positions than some of those whose supposed vexations were in the news yesterday, people like Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and his Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
Now where have we heard this before? Oh, yes: After Trump’s description of “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis on the streets of Charlottesville, economic advisor Gary Cohn was reported to be seriously thinking about a resignation on principle (he stayed). Then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was reportedly on the cusp of quitting over Trump’s politicized speech to a Boy Scout group (he didn’t). Attorney General William Barr considered resigning over Trump’s tweets and comments on ongoing cases (he didn’t). Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman was reportedly ready to resign after Trump’s chummy Helsinki event with Vladimir Putin (he stuck around for another year or so).
And so on: Four years of constant pondering of the future by tormented public servants!
Leaking word that you’re considering quitting is a time-honored Washington practice—a way of using the media to wage internal bureaucratic battles, to cover your ass about policy disagreements, or simply to play prima donna to a reporter who will listen. In the future, there will no doubt be articles about Biden insiders considering resignations. But in the Trump years, there’s been more to it. These stories are about establishmentarians trying to preserve their moral reputations in the face of profoundly troubling presidential conduct. They want to have their reputations and eat them too.
Given the shock of the Trump-abetted assault on the Capitol, the newest reports about crestfallen insiders may well be true by the time you read this. Or maybe these reports, and the earlier ones, have all been wrong. Thankfully, the latest batch have been treated with an appropriate amount of derision—as stories of rats fleeing a sinking ship rather than tales of patriots putting principle above (two more weeks of) paycheck.
But here’s another idea: For the next two weeks, don’t cover these stories! There’s a crisis to cover. If they want to start laundering their reputations on January 21, we’re all ears.