Regardless of whether national security adviser John Bolton resigned or was fired, President Donald Trump clearly was done with him.
“You know, John’s known as a tough guy. He's so tough, he got us into Iraq. That’s tough,” Trump snarked once he made the departure public.
It goes unexplained why Trump, who still slams the 2003 Iraq invasion, brought in Bolton — a champion of neoconservative policies the president supposedly rejects — 17 months ago.
Bolton backed "regime change" in Iran and North Korea. Things have not gone well between the U.S. and either nuclear-capable nation. At least now that he's gone, Bolton serves a clear role for Trump — as a scapegoat.
Other Cabinet appointments took a similar course.
Consider Jeff Sessions, the president's first attorney general. By July 2017, Trump was pillorying him on Twitter for a "VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes" that Trump said existed.
Even before Trump was sworn in, Sessions was questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was to confirm him as AG. On Jan. 10, 2017, he told the panel he believed he'd be seen as less than objective about such matters.
"I believe the proper thing for me to do, would be to recuse myself from any questions involving those kind of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton and that were raised during the campaign or to be otherwise connected to it," Sessions said.
Trump of course complained, too, about Sessions' recusal from the Russiagate probe. But what reason did the president have to expect something different even as he blamed Sessions for the probe that vexed him?
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats irked Trump, too. In July 2018, for example, Coats issued this statement: "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."
Coats also shared assessments about Iran, North Korea and the Islamic State that clashed with the president's public remarks. He left after being isolated, too.
Last Dec. 31, James Mattis resigned as secretary of defense. By all accounts he increasingly saw Trump dismiss his views of military involvements and the value of alliances.
It also is hard to say what Trump mistakenly thought he was getting when he picked Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, Gary Cohn as director of the National Economic Council or Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of homeland security. Or when he kept James Comey as FBI director.
In May, Trump derided Tillerson as “dumb as a rock and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be Secretary of State." Trump extols tariffs; Cohn opposed them as a policy tool. Nielsen took Trump's orders on immigration, but he blamed her for a rise in the number of immigrants at the border. And Trump's bitter, unfounded charges of Comey being a "dirty cop" have become epic.
Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in "The Prince": “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him."
For Trump, the question is why the people around him keep coming and going.