While running for president, Donald Trump assured the country that he’d only hire “the best people.” His private sector success stood as the perfect backdrop for making such a bold promise as he ran for the top job in a government with a reputation for cronyism and incompetence at all levels. Trump’s status as a successful businessman certainly gave a lot of people hope that he would indeed choose “the best people” for various positions in his administration.
And then he took office, and the regular flow of people in and out of positions has undermined that promise.
Trump had been praised for picking General Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis as his secretary of Defense, only to blast him as “the world’s most overrated general” after he left his position. Trump blasted his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as “ill-equipped” and “dumb as a rock.” If that’s the case, why did he choose him? Trump’s conflicts with his national security advisor John Bolton resulted in an unconventional firing and mocking, and now Bolton is on the verge of testifying in the impeachment inquiry. Bolton’s reputation as a hawk contrasted with Trump’s foreign policy approach, which may have been a good way to achieve a balanced foreign policy, but Trump ultimately decided their philosophies were too different.
And then there’s Jeff Sessions, who supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the early days, and was made his first attorney general. But, Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe resulted in the Mueller investigation—which ultimately proved there was no collusion—and that turned Trump against Sessions, who resigned a day after the 2018 midterms.
It’s time to be honest here. Trump’s problem isn’t that he isn’t picking the best people, it’s that he hasn’t picked the best yes-men. While you want to surround yourself with people who support your agenda, it is vitally important for presidents not to surround themselves with yes-men. Obama’s former advisor David Axelrod even faulted Obama for doing exactly that.
I disagreed with Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Russia probe, but I understand why he did it. I also understand why Trump was upset over the recusal, and why it was probably best for Sessions to leave the administration. That’s all in the past now, and Jeff Sessions is hoping to win back his former Senate seat. There was much speculation that Trump was planning to campaign against Sessions, who must win a GOP primary before facing Democrat Doug Jones next November. Thankfully, Trump has decided against that course of action. When asked if he would campaign against Sessions last week, Trump said he wouldn’t, but hasn’t decided if he’ll endorse him.
Sessions is well situated to win the primary and the general election. Trump would be right to stay out of the primary. It should be up to the Republican voters of Alabama if they want Sessions to represent them in the Senate again, but Trump should do everything in his power to ensure that Sessions, if he survives the primary, wins the general election. The voters still need to see that Trump knows Sessions is on his side, which Sessions has very clearly stated that he is. Doug Jones is the most vulnerable Democrat up for reelection next year, and the only person who can screw up winning back this seat is Donald Trump. So, if Sessions wins, Trump should endorse him right away. There’s no reason not to trust that Sessions will be an advocate for the Trump agenda back in the U.S. Senate.
“When I left President Trump’s cabinet, did I write a tell-all book? No. Did I go on CNN and attack the president? No,” Sessions says in his first campaign video. “Have I said a cross word about the president? Not one time and I’ll tell you why. First, that would be dishonorable. I was there to serve his agenda, not mine. Second, the president is doing a great job for America and Alabama and he has my strong support.”
Sessions also told Tucker Carlson on Thursday, “If I return to the Senate, no senator in the Senate will be more effective in advancing Trump’s agenda than I would be.” I have no doubt that he’s being sincere.
Jeff Sessions, despite disagreements with President Trump, has remained loyal to him and his agenda. As attorney general, he and Trump helped clean up the mess of corruption and politicization of the Obama Justice Department. As a U.S. Senator, he will give Trump the support he needs to move his agenda forward. Anything less than Trump’s full support risks losing the seat to Doug Jones in November, leaving the seat in Democrats’ hands for a full six-year term. Some believe that Democrats have a shot of winning back the Senate in 2020. In other words, every seat counts.
For the sake of his agenda, Trump needs to let bygones be bygones and give Sessions the support he needs when he’ll need it most.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis