NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - No wonder Rex Tillerson was willing to diverge from his boss on Monday and call out Russia directly for the alleged poisoning of a former double agent living in Britain. The U.S. secretary of state already knew President Donald Trump might sack him, according to press reports. The former chief executive of Exxon Mobil may not have been in Trump’s inner circle. But his exit on Tuesday shrinks the already shallow White House talent pool – and America’s welcome mat to the rest of the world.
Trump is rearranging officials from elsewhere to replace Tillerson. At least for now, that means no new blood in an administration recently depleted by the departure of Gary Cohn, the president’s former top economic adviser.
One problem, anecdotally at least, is that smart outsiders are leery of joining a White House where influence is limited and on any given day the president may care as much about an official’s ability on television as the substance they bring to the job. That’s not the only qualification of Larry Kudlow, a CNBC commentator on Trump’s list to replace Cohn, but it’s one of them.
Tillerson was regularly at odds with the president, either because he held steadier views or because he was out of the loop – as was the case, for example, last week when Trump announced he would meet with Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader. And he wasn’t the stellar manager of the State Department that some had expected given his background running a sprawling and complex corporation.
Yet he was a reassuring interlocutor for the rest of the world. Officials in Beijing and other capitals know Trump is going to make the big calls himself, but they still need other channels. Li Xinchuang, vice secretary-general of the China Iron and Steel Association, put it this way after the U.S. president announced tariffs on metal imports last week, according to Reuters: “Nothing can be done about Trump. We are already numb to him.”
With surprise decisions like Monday’s death blow to Broadcom’s unsolicited $117 billion bid for Qualcomm coming regularly from the White House, the danger is the world will become even more numb to the United States. And the more Trump’s talent pool shrinks, the fewer ideas his people will have to keep foreign governments and investors on side.
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