Mattis's rebuke of Trump is a big deal

Early Returns

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It's hard to get across what a big deal it is that former Defense Secretary James Mattis has not only publicly criticized President Donald Trump, but done so in extremely strong terms. In a statement issued Wednesday, Mattis talked about "those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution," and said that "We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership." He added that Trump was engaged in a "deliberate attempt" to "divide us," something he says no other president in his lifetime has done. (For the record, Mattis is 69, so he's talking about everyone since Harry Truman.) 

I'm not sure that we've ever had a former cabinet secretary criticize a president he or she served this harshly, and certainly not one who was still in office and up for re-election. It's all the more striking coming from a retired general, a group that tends to be relatively hesitant to jump into politics. Nor is Mattis standing alone. Trump's conduct this week — in particular his militarized response to what still amounts to a lot of peaceful protest and a small amount of criminal activity — has also been denounced by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and even some of those currently in office.

Mattis's criticism probably won't directly affect public opinion; there just aren't a lot of people who pay close enough attention to the news to hear what he said and who are also open to changing their minds. But it will still prove consequential. Although some Republicans will join Trump in denouncing Mattis, others will hesitate or be even less inclined to defend the president's actions than they had been (and most hadn't exactly been leaping to the microphones to support him in any event). Democrats were already going to condemn Trump, but they'll likely do so more harshly now. And those who aren't aligned with either party may well feel that a "neutral" stance now requires more criticism of the president, given that it's not just protesters who are judging him harshly. 

Meanwhile, the list of Donald Trump's terrible personnel choices according to Donald Trump gets one name longer, as the president reacted predictably by bashing Mattis. That list now includes a defense secretary, a secretary of state, an attorney general, at least one national security adviser and at least two White House chiefs of staff. Again, there are very few people who are otherwise undecided about Trump who would be swayed by what an awful job — according to Trump himself — he has done appointing people for the most important positions in government. But it's a remarkable record nonetheless. 

1. Elizabeth N. Saunders at the Monkey Cage on Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaking out against Trump's plans.

2. Also at the Monkey Cage: Michael Tesler on the protests and the 2020 election.

3. Dan Drezner takes on Senator Tom Cotton's weak arguments for sending troops in to quell the unrest.

4. Matt Grossmann speaks with Daniel Gillion and Michael Heaney about protests and how they change things.

5. Adam Serwer on Trump and lawlessness.

6. Philip Bump on unidentified law enforcement

7. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Conor Sen on jobs.

8. And Stuart Rothenberg on U.S. House elections.

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