Video by Sam Matthews
President Trump responded to a statement by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who said he was “angry and appalled” over the president’s plan to use the military to put down protests in American cities, in the way Trump frequently does when former aides fall out of his favor: by mocking and belittling them as losers who couldn’t have gotten another job if he hadn’t hired them.
In tweets Wednesday night, Trump called Mattis “the world’s most overrated General” and said he “didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him.”
“Probably the only thing Barack Obama & I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General,” Trump tweeted. “Glad he is gone!”
But that’s very different from what Trump was saying about the man he proudly referred to as one of “my generals” when he served as the administration’s first secretary of defense.
On Nov. 19, 2016, the then-president-elect met with Mattis at Trump’s golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., where he called the general a “great man.”
“All I can say is, he is the real deal,” Trump told reporters after their meeting. “The real deal.”
“He is some great man,” Trump mused the following day.
“General Mattis is the living embodiment of the Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis, ‘always faithful,’” Trump said after appointing Mattis to his Cabinet. “And the American people are fortunate that a man of this character and integrity will now be the civilian leader atop the Department of Defense.”
After the appointment was approved by the Senate, Trump called Mattis a “fantastic guy,” adding that people respect his “military sense.”
“He is a man of honor, a man of devotion and a man of total action,” Trump said on Jan. 21, 2017. “He is the right man at the right time.”
Mattis resigned in December 2018 after Trump announced he would withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, saying the president deserved to have a secretary of defense whose views were “better aligned” with his own.
Mattis retired from the military as the head of U.S. Central Command in 2013. According to the Washington Post, he fell out of favor in the Obama administration over his lobbying for the U.S. to use military force against Iran.
Since leaving the Trump administration, Mattis had avoided any direct criticism of his former commander in chief — until Wednesday.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mattis said in a statement emailed to reporters. “Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
When he was in the Cabinet, Mattis was sometimes mentioned, along with Gens. John Kelly and H.R. McMaster, as one of the “adults in the room” — experienced public servants who would keep the administration from succumbing to the impulses of untested aides, or Trump himself. All of them are now gone.
Trump’s criticism of Mattis after years of glowing remarks follows a familiar pattern for the president, who lauds his hires until after they leave, especially when they criticize him.
Last year, for instance, Trump lashed out at Rex Tillerson after the former secretary of state reportedly told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Russian President Vladimir Putin had outprepared Trump for their first meeting in Germany.
Trump responded by calling Tillerson “dumb as a rock” and “totally ill prepared and ill equipped” to be secretary of state, a job Trump appointed him to.
He tweeted out vulgar disparagement of former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, calling her a “dog” and a “crazed, crying lowlife” after she published a tell-all book, “Unhinged,” about her time in the West Wing.
And Trump has tweeted some 40 times about his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom he blames for not stopping the investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia, including one tweet in which he went out of his way to deny a report that he privately refers to Sessions as “Mr. Magoo.”
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