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.
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.”