For Tillerson, bucking Trump became a job-killer

For Tillerson, bucking Trump became a job-killer
© Getty Images

From the very beginning, Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonPresident Trump: To know him is to 'No' him Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Gary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November MORE was a particularly strange choice to be selected as the country’s top diplomat.

I was at his confirmation hearing where he faced some very rough questioning even from Republican senators. Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics MORE (R-Fla.) even threatened to vote against him, but that was just for show.


What was immediately apparent was that Tillerson had absolutely no prior relationship with the president when he was tapped to be secretary of State.


Now, secretary of State is no small potatoes. It is considered by experts in governance to be by far the most important position in the cabinet. It is the oldest post in the cabinet. In the line of presidential succession, it ranks first among the cabinet members.

Witnessing Tillerson in his initial Washington debut, you had a distinct feeling he was out of his element. This was a man who definitely had a corporate aura. He strode into the Senate hearing room confidently and not the least bit awed by his new surroundings. His gait was that of a big time CEO. And that he surely was — chief executive of Exxon-Mobil, a company of enormous wealth, power and clout, with interests spanning the globe.

Testifying on his behalf and vouching for his qualifications were pillars of the foreign policy universe, including former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and former Secretary of Defense and head of the CIA Robert Gates.

But when members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began questioning Tillerson, the nominee did not exhibit any significant or substantive philosophy in the world of foreign affairs. 

Yes, he had been to many countries around the globe, and had met directly and personally with many heads of states, but his mission was to advocate and negotiate for his company. He was an international traveler and had extensive knowledge of different locales, but all this information was devoted to advancing his company — not his country. 

In fact, Tillerson openly admitted that he never had spoken to or met Trump prior to being selected. I thought that a bit odd and wondered what kind of personal rapport would or could be established.

One moment sticks out more than any other. Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency Senate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination MORE (D-N.J) asked Tillerson whether he and the president-elect had discussed the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Tillerson replied, “The president-elect and I have not had the opportunity to discuss this specific issue or the specific area.”

It never came up? How unbelievable. Wouldn’t one of them bring up the subject and be interested in the other’s views relating to the most essential foreign relationship? 

Once confirmed and in office, Tillerson and Trump clearly did not get any closer and in no way formed even a decent working partnership. In fact, they publicly disagreed on a host of issues: the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel and negotiations with North Korea, to name just a few. 

When it came to Russia, Tillerson, as recently as the weekend before he was removed, thought it necessary to position himself far differently than the president. For instance he said, “I’ve become extremely concerned about Russia. We spent most of last year investing a lot into attempts to work together to solve problems, to address differences and, quite frankly, after a year we didn’t get very far. Instead, what we’ve seen is a pivot on their part to be more aggressive.” 

These sentiments are surely not the Trump tone on Russia.

No discussion of the Trump-Tillerson relationship can be complete without addressing the word Tillerson allegedly used to describe his boss, the president of the United States. He reportedly called Trump a “moron,” a statement he never denied saying. 

Trump, an individual who prizes loyalty and subservience above everything else, would be sure to get even.

Look, Trump picked Tillerson because he wanted a Fortune 500 big shot working for him. Tillerson accepted, presumably, because he wanted to serve his country. Both soon found out that this was a terrible fit. 

What I sincerely hope is that Tillerson will not go away silently and disappear. I want to see him in person, telling all on “60 Minutes” and writing a blockbuster book that will reveal to the world what kind of president we have.

Tillerson would then be performing a true public service.

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics. He previously was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, and for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.