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Mason policy professors consider consequences of Rex Tillerson's ouster

March 14, 2018

Schar professors [left to right]: Jeremy Mayer, Dean Mark J. Rozell, Edward Rhodes, Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera.

When it comes right down to it, President Donald Trump had no choice but to push Rex Tillerson out as Secretary of State, a George Mason University professor said.

Not only has Trump repeatedly acknowledged that Tillerson’s vision of foreign policy conflicts with his own, Tillerson has broken with the norms of behavior for his office.

“Countering the president’s utterances, expressing differences of opinion, badmouthing the president are all unacceptable in the role,” said Mark. J. Rozell, dean of George Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government. “[Tillerson] really should have resigned earlier if he could not fully represent the president’s views and agenda. Ultimately, the president had no choice than to relieve the secretary of his position.”

That said, Trump also violated professional and political norms by not directly informing Tillerson of his ouster. Tillerson said he found out through a Trump tweet. CIA director Mike Pompeo has been nominated as Tillerson’s replacement.

The moves continue the rapid turnover rate at the White House, which is at least double that of every presidential administration, starting with George H. W. Bush in 1989.

“Given the record levels of turmoil in Trump’s administration, this is both bigger news and smaller news than normal,” said Schar professor Jeremy Mayer, a presidential historian. “Bigger because it adds to the accumulated chaos Trump has surrounded himself with. Small because we are so used to turmoil around Trump.”

The continuing shakeups will have international repercussions, Schar associate professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera said.

“From an international perspective, these erratic [personnel] changes—including several other recent ones—and the nontraditional means to communicate them threaten the stability of the United States and of our hemisphere,” she said.

As for Pompeo, Schar professor Edward Rhodes is impressed by what he said is Pompeo’s “commitment to public service that he is willing to take the job.”

But Rhodes said he is wary that “only a fool, a masochist or devoted public servant would accept this commission.”

“Not only is the personal and professional disrespect that the president shows to members of the Cabinet deliberately and unnecessarily pubic and gratuitously demeaning,” he said, “it is also the case that the president’s scattershot and erratic foreign policy, Twitter tantrums, and refusal to receive comprehensive briefings mean that the State Department is left to steer an insane zigzag course between lethal icebergs of reality.”

Mark J. Rozell can be reached at 703-993-8171 or

Jeremy Mayer can be reached at 703-993-8223 or

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera can be reached at 703-993-6273 or

Edward Rhodes can be reached at 703-993-4108 or

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.