More Nixon than Obama — Trump purges dissent from White House


National Security Council advisor Craig Deare was demoted by Donald Trump for the sin of expressing disagreement with administration policy. His removal is the second time in a month that this White House has lashed out at their own team for refusing to go along with the groupthink.

Craig Deare, who was serving as the senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, reportedly criticized Donald Trump during a roundtable discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center. According to a Politico report, Deare spoke about the outsize influence of white nationalist Steve Bannon over affairs in the White House (including preventing national security aides from speaking to Trump), and also criticized the dysfunctional atmosphere among the Trump team which has led to a series of missteps on issue after issue.

When his comments were publicized, Deare was sent back to the National Defense University, where he previously served as dean of administration.

Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders (daughter of Mike Huckabee) was extremely blunt about Deare’s demotion, telling reporters, "I don't think that any person that is there in order to carry out the President's agenda should be against the President's agenda," and adding, "If you don't support the President's agenda then you shouldn't have a job in the White House."

Shermichael Singleton, who was a senior advisor to Ben Carson at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was also recently fired. His sin, in the eyes of the Trump team, was pointing out the "coded" racist rhetoric that Trump used throughout the campaign season. Reports indicate that Singleton was removed from the HUD building with a security escort.

This is redefining criticism of policy and its execution as disagreement with Trump. And it effectively means that any dissent from the party line — even if it is a warning about impending disaster — is to be punished.

By contrast, in 2009, as President Obama assembled his cabinet, he looked to Abraham Lincoln’s "team of rivals" for inspiration. Lincoln appointed several Republicans who had also sought the Republican nomination in 1860 to be his closest advisors, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who once called Lincoln a "long-armed ape."

Obama also put his rivals for the Democratic nomination in his leadership team. Of course, Vice President Joe Biden was also a 2008 presidential candidate, but Obama’s strongest opponent in that primary campaign was Hillary Clinton. Yet soon after he won, Obama asked her to serve in his cabinet in the powerful position of Secretary of State — a position directly related to the issue Clinton and Obama had clashed over most often, foreign policy.

Trump’s approach is distinctly different from Lincoln and Obama’s: Surrounding himself with "yes" men and purging those who casually deviate from the company line, even if they appear to be looking out for the welfare of the country, as appears to be the case with Deare.

Trump’s tactic is closer to the Nixon playbook, an ongoing rolling paranoid purge of those seen as disloyal to the president’s whims, whatever they happen to be at the moment.