I don't know how it is internationally, but over here in Germany I hear almost on a daily basis that United States president Donald Trump fired one of his close advisers or ministers or whatever its translated into.

Media is biased and of course this gives the impression Trump still has no clue on how the job should be done and is just behaving like a stubborn child.

But just because so many government high-position employees get fired under Trump, doesn't mean it hasn't happened under e.g. Bush or Obama.

So is it just the media trying to put him in a bad light by reporting things that never had been uncommon? Or is Trump really just not able to organize his governmental staff?

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    Previous presidents were not primarily famous for uttering the phrase "you're fired," to be fair. Aug 4, 2017 at 14:54
  • While not precisely on point, prior to the U.S. Civil War, the prestige associated with federal government service was much lower and as a result it was often hard for Presidents to hold onto senior officials for prolonged periods as they would quit and do something more important or better paying. Members of Congress routinely quit midterm and a significant share of federal judges did too. Lincoln's administration during the Civil War was known for high turnover of high level military officials who in that case usually were fired.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 8, 2017 at 21:11

2 Answers 2


In contrast with European Heads of Government, POTUS can basically fire anyone in their administration rather than only people at the highest levels.

As such, what usually occurs when POTUS takes office is a swath of bureaucrats gets dismissed and replaced on the spot, and everyone gets to work in short order so as to get as much done early as possible. That much is to be expected and basically normal.

Unusual things with Trump's presidency include the fact that some positions are still unfilled, sackings occurred on dubious grounds, sackings of recently hired staff occurred, vicious tensions have been occurring within the White House since the beginning, and vicious attacks by Trump himself are occurring on some of his own staff.

What more, some Republican officials have been or increasingly are becoming defiant, significant legislation has yet to get passed, and swaths of commentators - including some, like Krauthammer, who usually are friendly to Republicans, and outlets like Breitbart, who played a role in getting him elected - are openly criticizing Trump for his unusual behavior.

Firing White House staff and other high level bureaucrats is nothing unusual. See for instance how Reagan's cabinet or those of Bush father and Bush son evolved over time.

What's unusual with Trump is the way and the rate at which dismissals have occurred so far.

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    Trump has had seven senior officials resign or be dismissed, as of 1 August 2017. There is no precedent for this rate of turnover. Bill Clinton had three Communications Directors in eight years; Trump is recruiting his third in less than seven months. Aug 4, 2017 at 14:48
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    "In contrast with European Heads of States...": In countries with a parliamentary system of government, the Prime Minister or Chancellor (i.e. the person who can do the hiring and firing) is the head of government. In that system, the head of state is a president or monarch, who typically has very limited powers. In a presidential system, the president is both the head of state and head of government. Aug 4, 2017 at 15:21
  • @RoyalCanadianBandit Well 1 was fired before his official start date so does that still count as three? Also Spicer is still in the role for awhile I think until his last day
    – SCFi
    Aug 4, 2017 at 17:32
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    @jamesqf: yeah, Reagan fired quite a few people. Clinton fired an FBI director too, as did Nixon. It sometimes happens. Aug 4, 2017 at 20:19
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    @DenisdeBernardy: Nixon did not fire an FBI director. As your link notes, he fired a special prosecutor, and his Attorney General and Deputy AG both resigned in protest. While Clinton did fire FBI director WS Sessions, this was motivated by evidence of tax avoidance and misuse of public funds by Sessions. Simply firing an FBI director, against whom there are no allegations of personal misconduct, is completely unprecedented. Aug 8, 2017 at 8:59

Traditionally, Presidents have had prior political experience and a dedicated cadre of people loyal to that person prior to the election. This has allowed them to fill positions among top staff and cabinet officials with people who are known quantities. People who have served through at least two campaigns (one for previous office and the presidential campaign). So positions like Chief of Staff, Communications Director, and Press Secretary tend to be filled by the people who did the same role in the campaign.

This was Donald Trump's first ever campaign. He didn't have dedicated people who were with him throughout the campaign. For example, he had three or four different people running his campaign. Corey Lewandoski left after an altercation with a reporter. His role had been more of a body man for Trump but grew into running the campaign.

Paul Manafort had a different title and actually started before Lewandoski left. He left after discussion of his lobbying work became a distraction (somehow his Clinton campaign equivalent, John Podesta, avoided serious scrutiny for his, very similar, lobbying work).

Manafort was replaced by two people. Kellyanne Conway became the official campaign manager, while Steve Bannon became the campaign's CEO. Neither were traditional Washington people (Conway's a bit closer than Bannon but neither is known for the bipartisan connections).

Rather than picking one of those four to be Chief of Staff, Trump picked Reince Priebus, who had closer to the right experience. Priebus was more of an establishment Republican choice. He wasn't really the kind of person that Trump would have chosen on his own, but at the time, he made Republicans feel better (and to a lesser extent Democrats). Priebus was a perfectly normal choice rather than the kind of outsider they expected. But he never really fit with the Trump loyalists.

John Kelly may fit better. He's establishment enough to get respect from Washington people but as a former general rather than a political person, he may be outsider enough to keep the loyalists happy.

Barack Obama had four Chiefs of Staff in his first term. One was considered an interim appointment. George H. W. Bush had three in his one term. So turnover there is not unknown. Trump was likely more vulnerable to it in that he had no relation with Priebus or other natural choices prior to the campaign.

At Communications Director, it's not uncommon for a new president to take some time working out who should have the position. Obama had three in his first year. If we take Sean Spicer as just a temporary placeholder, then Trump's next will be his third.

Trump is only on his second Press Secretary. Harry S Truman, Gerald Ford, and Bill Clinton also had press secretaries with short tenures. For example, Clinton's George Stephanopoulos tried (like Spicer) to be both Communication's Director and Press Secretary at the same time.

At FBI Director, Clinton also fired an FBI director (William S. Sessions). Special Prosecutor Ken Starr would eventually be appointed to investigate Clinton, an investigation that would have started under Sessions if he had been kept.

Trump's tenure has been notable not so much for the individual events but that they have all come in combination. My personal belief is that this is primarily a result of electing someone without a political background. Trump doesn't have a known pool of people competing for these positions who have already been vetted in political appointments. This leaves him vulnerable on multiple fronts. Some prospective appointments have failed vetting. Some have failed in the relationship with Trump.

If this were happening on a smaller scale at the gubernatorial level, this would hardly be news. If Trump had stronger relations with other politicians, as Obama, the Bushes, and Clinton had, then there would be more room for him to act. But Trump has just two years in politics.

This is part of his appeal. He's an outsider to Washington. But it does make it harder for him to be effective. He doesn't have the large apparatus of support that more traditional candidates would have. This is part of why his greatest successes have been judicial appointments and regulatory changes. In those areas, he's working with the Republican establishment.

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    Obama's first chief of staff served for almost two years, then resigned to run for Mayor of Chicago. This is hardly comparable to the turnover of personnel at Trump's White House. Other "outsiders" (Bloomberg, Schwarzenegger) have held executive office without such a dramatic turnover of staff. And WS Sessions was fired for personal misconduct; dismissing the FBI director simply because POTUS doesn't like him is unprecedented. To answer the question, there is something very unusual about Trump even allowing for his lack of political background. Aug 8, 2017 at 9:13

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