Donald Trump, chaos president and turnover king

As a TV star, Donald Trump was famous for telling people, “You’re fired.” Does it seem as if he has brought that gag into his latest reality TV role as president? Does it seem like there is more chaos and turnover in the Trump administration than is normal?

It does to me, but because of my attempt to resist the twin demons of selective perception and confirmation bias, I try to be careful about letting my dislike/distrust of Trump dictate my perceptions.

In the matter of chaos, or at least turnover, this is something that can be quantified and compared, and it turns out that in this instance the perception matches reality. By a huge margin, the Trump administration has experienced more turnover in top administration positions than any other recent president.

I rely on the counting done by Brookings Institution government studies fellow Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, who has set up a template for tracking and comparing turnover among top-level administration officials over the last six presidencies (Reagan, two Bushes, Clinton, Obama and Trump).

At the end of Trump’s first year in office, 34 percent of his top-level officials had quit or been fired. That’s exactly double the previous record of 17 percent, in the first year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Bill Clinton hit 11 percent turnover in year one, and all the others were in single digits. George W. Bush had the most stable first-year lineup with 6 percent turnover, so Trump more than quintupled him.

And the quitting and firing in Trumplandia is not slowing down. (Note today’s news of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s firing, as well as that of Trump personal aide John McEntee.)

NPR just published an update based on Tenpas’ work, which indicates that, just a month and a half into his second year, Trump has now set a new record of 43 percent turnover among top-level White House and cabinet officials.

Based on Tenpas, NPR compared that figured with the previous six presidencies at the two-year mark. If he didn’t fire anyone else for the next 10-plus months, Trump would already have set a record for the first two years. (Barack Obama had the least turnover at the two-year mark, with 24 percent. The question is not whether Trump will double that, of course he will, but will he triple or quadruple it?

On matters like this, I’m often reminded of the comment about Trump by the great future-seer Jeb Bush during one of the late 2015 debates, in which he said of Trump: “He’s a chaos candidate. And he’d be a chaos president.”

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Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/13/2018 - 02:08 pm.

    Another Number

    In addition to the number of turnovers, consider the number of positions that remain unfilled. To cite but one example, President Trump is (maybe) heading for talks with North Korea without having in office either an ambassador to South Korea or an Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

    Who needs that kind of expertise, right?

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/13/2018 - 02:28 pm.

    Legislation is hard work but you get some adulation from a fawning congress-critters and cabinet-creatures. That is nice, but still–you’re int the company of those who want some share of the glory…

    But nothing is more manly, mano-a-mano than a military strike.

    My reading is that these personnel changes and others coming (Bolton…Bolton, calling Mr. Bolton) are leading to a military strike somewhere, surrounded by those like Pompeo who believe a manly foreign policy is defined by war.

    After all, it would be all him, all glorious him.

    After all, a failed meeting with Kim clears the way to a “bloody nose”.


    “Toad, with no one to check his statements or to criticize in an unfriendly spirit, rather let himself go. Indeed, much that he related belonged more properly to the category of what-might-have-happened-had-I-only-thought-of-it-in-time-instead-of-ten-minutes-afterwards. Those are always the best and raciest adventures; and why should they not be truly ours, as much as the somewhat inadequate things that really come off?”
    ― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

    (end quote)

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/13/2018 - 02:55 pm.

    Trump – Proof Elections have consequences

    If they couldn’t figure out how Trump operates during the campaign and still want to work for him I can’t feel sorry for any of those who are sullying their previously good name by working for him. Trump said during the campaign “He could do it alone”. That might be where he is headed. Voters need to keep in mind the idea of a one-man government, called a dictatorship, the next time they vote. Is that really what you want for our government? I think Trump has a totally different definition of chaos than the rest of the country does, except of course for the diehards that have invested so much time defending Trump they can’t back out now because that would make them look foolish. There is a very sick man in the White House and congress is sitting on their hands and letting it all happen. Using Trumps own word – SICK. We all need to be reminded before entering the voting booth – Elections have consequences!

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 03/13/2018 - 03:17 pm.

    I for one am happy that Trump

    is weeding out the globalists and New World Order conservatives from his staff. With America First policy in place, you see an improvement in job numbers, slowly wages are improving, people are moving off welfare and getting jobs, manufacturing is trying to ramp up, illegal border crossings are down, N. Korea wants a sit down and consumer/small business confidence is up.
    Not being a swamp creature/career politician, Trump needs to filter through those who claim to be conservatives willing to follow the U.S. constitution and globalists that feel a job in Honduras is as good as a job in Gary, Indiana.
    Weed out the globalists and keep pushing policies that create jobs and strengthen the USA.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/13/2018 - 03:57 pm.

      I’m happy to see

      …that Mr. Smith’s rose-colored glasses remain firmly in place.

      Indeed, let’s weed out the globalists and New World order conservatives. We’re the only country on the planet that matters, and even if the numbers (pesky reality) don’t always match the perception, it’s the perception that matters most on TV. I’m looking forward to facts from a reasonably even-handed source that support “improvement in job numbers and increased wages” (outside of executive offices, and not counting “bonuses” tossed to the serfs by the feudal masters). Trump will, but shouldn’t, take credit for fewer illegal border crossings, and I can’t help but wonder what factual support there might be for the idea that manufacturing is **trying** to ramp up. If manufacturing is, indeed, ramping up, I suspect it won’t last long once the new Trumpian tariffs go into effect. I might add that Minnesota farmers, who do a LOT of export business, won’t be happy if Mr. Trump ignites a trade war.

      The notion that Mr. Trump wants faithful devotees of the U.S. Constitution by his side is laughable, simply based on the evidence so far, and is almost as laughable as the idea that Mr. Trump is bringing jobs to Gary, Indiana instead of exporting them to Honduras. Mr. Smith should talk to the good folks at Carrier about keeping jobs here as promised. As for the dreaded Washington swamp, Mr. Trump and his allies helped create the swamp in the first place, and Trump is actively maintaining the quagmire through his multiple appointments of swamp-dwellers to cabinet and other positions in his administration.

      It might be time for a new prescription for those glasses, Joe.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/13/2018 - 06:37 pm.

        Good points

        From the farmers’ perspective down here in rural Minnesota, if China sells less steel, they’ll buy less corn and soybeans from us. And when the price of steel inevitably goes up, all those big farm machines you see on the road will also get more expensive.

        • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 03/14/2018 - 08:19 am.


          Makes it all the more interesting why farm country went overwhelming for Trump with the full knowledge that this was / is his agenda.

          Please note that I did not say confusing. The choice of voting against your own self interest with the goal of screwing the other guy’s self interest is a powerful narcotic to the limited knowledge voter….

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/14/2018 - 09:31 am.

            Numbers, again

            There are very few actual farmers these days — most of our crops are produced by large corporate farms who benefit from Trump’s tax breaks.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/16/2018 - 07:06 am.

        Umm Joe

        I realize that you’re simply rehashing talking points from elsewhere, but you might want to dial back your use of your current favorite, “globalist”. Unless of course you’re ol with everyone believing you to be an unabashed anti-Semite, as those folks are the source of that particular “dog whistle of the week”. You wouldn’t want that now, would you?

    • Submitted by ian wade on 03/13/2018 - 05:45 pm.

      Right, Joe..”globalists and New World Order conservatives.”

      When the quislings being weeded out are guys like Rex Tillerson, it’s time for some serious self-reflection. At the very least, revisiting Lord of the Flies.

    • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 03/14/2018 - 09:32 am.

      Even if you’re “weeding out the globalists” perspective was true – and I don’t think it is – who put those so-called globalists there to begin with?

      You don’t get credit for “weeding” if you were the one to “plant” those weeds..

      At best, you could argue he’s been incompetent in his initial choices.

      • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/14/2018 - 11:44 am.

        You point rightly at the true problem: Trump was never remotely qualified to be president, and he had no preparation for assuming the office: he had no depth of policy expertise on his campaign or in the transition that went much beyond his family members and some opportunists who saw someone they could manipulate. Or thought they could manipulate to their benefit.

        Trump’s picks for White House and Cabinet positions were astonishing in their combination of special interests (“swamp dwellers”) and ideologues bent on destroying the agency they were to head (Education; Environmental Protection; Interior; Agriculture; Housing and Urban Development; State). He was picking this one and that one, based on some sporadic “recommendation” or people whose area “expertise” had consisted in attacking that cabinet agency.

        One “recommendation,” according to the Washington Post, was Putin’s government protesting to Trump a possible appointment of Mitt Romney as Secretary of State; Tillerson, a friend and oil-baron colleague or Putin, was preferable, even if Trump didn’t know Tillerson. Think about that.

        And think of dictatorship, unconstrained. One-man rule. Tin-pot.

        I’m really scared of Trump’s ridding his staff and agencies of everyone but those who agree with his every assertion. He’s going on with it today!

    • Submitted by John Evans on 03/14/2018 - 09:09 pm.

      How did these wonderful consequences happen?

      Mr. Smith implies that Trump’s policies have caused a continuation of the recovery. No causal reasoning can support this assertion, but that’s par for the course.

      Now Mr. Trump has appointed Lawrence Kudlow, of all people, as his chief economic advisor. Kudlow was once a professional economist, until his coke habit forced him out of Bear, Stearns, and he reinvented himself as a cable talking head. Since then he has been wrong about every major event our economy has faced.

      In June of 2005 he scoffed at those who expressed concern about the housing market, calling them “bubbleheads.” In December 2007, as the worst recession in 70 years was beginning he confidently wrote, “There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen.”

      These were catastrophically wrong prognostications, and anyone who invested on Kudlow’s advice lost money bigly. But the icing on the cake is that he never, ever admits that he was wrong about anything. He also never ever learns anything from actual events. His principal job qualification appears to be rhetorical aggression.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 03/13/2018 - 04:57 pm.

    No Ray those are facts.

    The economy is up, consumer confidence is up, small businesses are confident again, border crossings are down, N. Korea wants a sit down…. Facts are globalists from Bush 1 to Obama caused millions of jobs to leave, wages to stagnate and America leading the way for a “better world” (didn’t happen) but a weaker more Govt dependent America…. Trump’s policies are helping to turn that around, Trump’s politics hurt his policies… much too thin skinned for me.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 03/14/2018 - 01:03 pm.

      The economy has been up

      long before Trump came into office. Obama deported more people than GWB, technology killed jobs, not “globalists” and wages stagnated because of GOP policy. Nice spin though…

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/14/2018 - 01:03 pm.


      If you look at any of the standard market indices (such as the DJ or the S&P) you’ll see that the market went up from October 2017 (before the election, when Clinton was still favored) until January 2018
      (when Trump took office. Then they tanked 3000 points worth. Since then they have recovered about half of that loss.
      If you look at GDP data (FRED is a good source) you’ll see the same pattern: aside from the dip in 2008, there’s been a steady increase over the past ten years or so. Presidents don’t have much effect on the economy.

    • Submitted by Christian King on 03/14/2018 - 09:33 pm.

      Under Trump

      America has lost about 40,000 tourism jobs and 4.6 billion in tourism spending.

      Also, Trump has personally cost taxpayers over 58 million by taking golf outings, most of which have unconstitutionally benefited his own company.

  6. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/13/2018 - 06:07 pm.

    chaos president and turnover king

    Yet two more names to add to the” Eric Black top ten Trump name-calling” list.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/14/2018 - 12:20 pm.


      Trump has replaced more cabinet and staff members in his first year than any previous president has in his first two. Sounds like chaotic turnover to me!
      Or do you have some alternative facts?

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/15/2018 - 09:25 am.

      Thanks Eric

      for irrefutable facts. It is nice to know how unstable our government is.

  7. Submitted by Roy Everson on 03/15/2018 - 06:40 pm.

    A brother’s legacy

    Chaos President is a Jeb Bushism, perhaps the only thing he’ll be remembered for.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/16/2018 - 10:14 am.

    We’re moving into an era where Trump will have a cabinet and advisors made up of mostly cable news hosts and pundits.

    All that shouting, name-calling, slurs and fear-mongering worked.

    Trump, surrounded by those he trusts and loves.

    Unchained to create the world he learned to want from the pundits on teevee.

  9. Submitted by John Clark on 03/17/2018 - 10:14 am.

    What direction is Trump actually taking us?

    If things were as hunky dory here as the bravado Mr. Trump likes to make them out to be, and there is no chaos in the White House, as he claims, then one would think that his approval rating would be soaring, but that’s hardly the case. There are still significantly more people who disapprove of Trump’s presidency (54%) than people who approve (40%). And our status as the happiest nation dropped from 14th place to 18th this last year, even though our nation’s wealth (at least for some people) increased. It is interesting to note that in the happiest nation, Finland, presidential candidates there that promote a Trump style populism and nationalism are not popular with the vast majority of the people. This is also true in other Nordic countries that are high on the happy scale. That should tell us something about the direction Trump is trying to take us. Wouldn’t we all be a whole lot better off if the president would at least make a few small efforts to bring people together on issues, rather than divide us, just for the sake of his large ego?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/19/2018 - 08:38 am.

      Throwing snakes into the cattle pen….

      When your message is division based on fear and greed, of course people are less happy

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