President Donald Trump was elected in 2016 after declaring war against institutional Washington and “the swamp.”
The “drain the swamp” message has been the calling card of Trump and his supporters since the 2016 election cycle, and for good reason. Sixty percent of American voters believe it is important to metaphorically drain the swamp, according to a 2018 poll. If anything in 2020 America cuts across party and ideological lines, it’s the broad consensus that the cartel of lobbyists, special interest groups and career civil servants should have their gravy train cut off.
Some conservatives have argued that the president has not done enough to drain the swamp, taking issue with the influence of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump in the White House while also panning some of the more traditional Republicans that have become influential in the administration. Others have argued that the president has done the best he can given the apparent institutional disadvantages he’s faced. (RELATED: President Trump’s Biggest Failures Have Been His Staffing Mistakes)
Trump has begun to significantly shake things up after being acquitted by the U.S. Senate on two articles of impeachment. Just days after his acquittal, the president ousted multiple witnesses at the center of his impeachment, transferring both Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother Yevgeny from the National Security Council back to the Army and firing European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland over their “insubordinate” actions. Additionally, a source indicated to the Caller that more changes could be coming.(RELATED: Everything You Need To Know About Alexander Vindman, The Ukraine-Born Army Officer At The Center Of The Impeachment Probe)
Vindman is part of the national security state that has largely opposed Trump’s outsider presidency, while Sondland was a once-loyal bundler who was terminated after he testified to the House Intelligence Committee that he believed Trump engaged in a quid pro quo during his now-infamous July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The moves were part of a major house cleaning operation that has taken place at the NSC under the Trump administration. The president and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien have fired 70 Obama-era staffers at the NSC since O’Brien took his position. The Obama administration increased the number of NSC staffers to 200, and Trump and O’Brien have made it an initiative to cut the staff down. O’Brien told Fox News’ host Laura Ingraham that the current size of the NSC was “bloated,” and that he wanted to cut the staff in half.
The purge at the NSC has enraged liberals in the nation’s capital, but it was just the tip of the iceberg for an administration that has become known for its historic turnover. In just over three years, the Trump administration has run through three chiefs of staff, two attorneys general, and two secretary of states. For comparison, President Barack Obama had one chief of staff, one secretary state, and two attorney generals in his entire second term as president.
On a broader scale, 51 of the top 65 positions in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) have changed since Trump took office in January 2017, according to tracking conducted by the left-leaning Brookings Institute. Brookings found that turnover on Trump’s “A Team” reached 82% since the president’s inauguration. The think tank compared turnover in Trump’s first term to turnover in previous president’s first terms, and Trump’s was the highest, followed by Ronald Reagan at 78%, Bill Clinton at roughly 75%, and Barack Obama at roughly 70%. Both presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush had just over 60% turnover in those positions during their first term. (RELATED: Neil Patel: Looking Ahead To Trump’s Second Term)
The latest round of terminations, which occurred right after Trump’s impeachment acquittal, set off a firestorm in Washington, D.C. Democratic members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accused the president of seeking retribution against those who testified in the House’s impeachment proceedings. The firings were compared to some of the darkest, most corrupt moments in world history as “Night of the Long Knives” and “Saturday Night Massacre” both trended on Twitter in portions of the country. Even several Republican senators attempted to talk the president out of firing Sondland, according to a report published earlier this month by The New York Times. But the newly-emboldened president didn’t agree. While liberals and even some concerned Republicans have decried the turnover in Trump’s administration, the president’s supporters have largely embraced the chaos and advocated for more turnover in the nation’s capital.
Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk argued in a recent Newsweek article that Trump should run his re-election campaign on breaking up Washington. The prominent Trump advocate said that he believes departments in the federal government should move out of the nation’s capital and into states such as Michigan, Colorado and Ohio. Kirk argues that these states would benefit from the job opportunities in the states, and the proximity of government officials to the people their policies most affect would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of these departments. Long-time Trump ally and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has repeatedly stated that Trump’s presidency is about “deconstructing the administrative state,” aka draining the swamp. (RELATED: How Students For Trump Hopes To Boost The President In 2020)
Some pundits on the right and left have attacked Trump for not doing enough to fulfill his campaign promise of draining the swamp. But there are signs in at least the later part of his first term that the president is growing more comfortable and assertive in his role as commander in chief. The recent swaths of staff changes in the White House suggests that draining the swamp could rebound to the top of Trump’s agenda if he wins a second term.