Pompeo denies it, as you’d expect, but the timing makes perfect sense. And it sounds like Time magazine’s sources are solid.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told three prominent Republicans in recent weeks that he plans to resign from the Trump Administration to run for the U.S. Senate from Kansas in next year’s elections. The problem: how to get out in one piece.
Pompeo’s plan had been to remain at the State Department until early spring next year, the three Republicans tell TIME, but recent developments, including the House impeachment inquiry, are hurting him politically and straining his relationship with Trump…
As impeachment hearings gain steam, Pompeo faces a dilemma, say the three prominent Republicans, all of whom requested anonymity to discuss private conversations with Pompeo. On the one hand, the longer he stays, the greater the criticism of his failure to defend veteran diplomats and longstanding U.S. policies against the President’s politicization of foreign affairs. Pompeo has declined to defend by name either former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch or diplomat William Taylor, both of whom gave damning testimony against Trump this month.
On the other, Trump and his loyalists are blaming Pompeo for the damning testimony of the State Department employees and for what the loyalists perceive as Pompeo’s insufficiently robust defense of the President.
Until recently Pompeo was the golden boy among top Trump advisors, the one Republican in government during the pre-Trump era who seemed to have a rapport with the president. He went from Congress to head of the CIA to Secretary of State in the span of 15 months because Trump took a shine to him. He seemed well positioned to hold the job as long as he wanted, or maybe to lateral to some other prominent office (Secretary of Defense?) once a vacancy opened up. Even if he wanted to return to electoral politics, he had the most valuable commodity a red-state Republican could hope for — a glowing recommendation from Donald Trump.
The political world was his oyster. Stay in the cabinet and maybe start thinking about a presidential run in 2024, or run for the Senate seat in Kansas that Pat Roberts is vacating and win it in a walkover? Pompeo’s just 55, remember. He could hold that seat for a dozen years without ever worrying about a tough race and then run for president still as a youngish man.
But it’s all gone wrong. On both ends, actually.
Trump’s good favor is no longer assured, thanks to the fact that diplomats like Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch keep showing up before Schiff’s committee to make Trump’s life difficult. What he wants Pompeo to do about that, I don’t know, but Pompeo’s in charge and Trump seems to view his cabinet as exalted “fixers” for him a la Michael Cohen (which is why he’s never forgiven Jeff Sessions for failing to derail the Russiagate probe). Pompeo hasn’t fixed this impeachment problem for him, has he? The president expressed his displeasure about it both directly and indirectly within the past few weeks:
“Here’s the problem: He’s a never Trumper, and his lawyer is,” the president told reporters about [Bill] Taylor [on Oct. 25]. “The other problem is — hey, everyone makes mistakes — Mike Pompeo. Everybody makes mistakes.”
The next day, Oct. 26, Pompeo was notably absent as the president sat with his national security team during the U.S. military raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Pompeo was not informed about the raid until late Friday after he was home in Kansas for his son’s friend’s wedding, officials said…
But the president was angry when he arrived in his private dining room on Oct. 29, two officials said. Pompeo defended himself, officials said, by telling Trump he doesn’t know who half of these State Department officials are, officials said. He also noted that there are thousands of employees at the agency, explaining that he can’t control them, those familiar with the matter said.
Pompeo’s the one who hired Bill Taylor out of retirement to take charge of the embassy in Ukraine, a decision which increasingly seems like it may poison Trump’s relationship with him the way Sessions’s recusal poisoned his own relationship with Trump. If you’re Pompeo, it’s in your interest to get out now before the daily tweets start and Republican voters’ views of you deteriorate. Otherwise, before he knows it, he’ll be forced to cut pitiful groveling ads showing him wearing a MAGA cap and all but begging the president’s forgiveness.
It’s not just Trump’s unhappiness that’s weighing on Pompeo, though. His own diplomats reportedly resent him for not going to bat for Taylor and Yovanovitch and doubtless for being a loyal servant to a president whom they dislike for policy reasons and personal reasons. A job that now entails endless complaints from superiors and from subordinates isn’t a job worth holding, especially when Pompeo has a cushy Senate gig waiting for him back in Kansas. He’d easily be the best-known candidate on the Republican primary ballot there and his service to Trump in two separate cabinet positions makes his Trumpist credentials impeccable. Plus, he’s backed by the Koch brothers so he’ll have the funding he needs to run a strong campaign. He can’t lose, right?
Well, hold on. Time notes that Trump’s trade war isn’t hugely popular in an agricultural state like Kansas. His latest approval rating there, per Morning Consult, is a respectable but not overwhelming 51/45. Pompeo, as the candidate in the race who’s most closely associated with Trump, risks bearing the brunt of that. Meanwhile, it’s anyone’s guess how Trump will react to a run given his annoyance at Pompeo right now over impeachment *plus* the fact that another Trump favorite, border hawk extraordinaire Kris Kobach, is also running in the primary. Trump may decide to put aside his fondness for Kobach and grudgingly back Pompeo on pure electability grounds, because Kobach somehow managed to lose the gubernatorial race last year in this solidly Republican state. But who knows how populist Republicans in Kansas will react in a primary if forced to choose between Pompeo, who became a Trumpist for opportunistic reasons, and Kobach, who’s much more of a Trumpist at heart given his focus on immigration? If Trump decides not to endorse any candidate, Kansas Republicans may take that as their cue that Pompeo is in disfavor and decide to stick with Kobach or some other candidate.
Which means there’s a nonzero (if small) chance that Mike Pompeo, the closest thing Trump has to a right-hand man in government, could be out of office completely by next summer with no immediate prospect of returning. From “cabinet member or senator?” to unemployment in the span of six months or so. Career fortunes can shift quickly in Washington, but Pompeo’s would have moved at light-speed if everything goes south for him.
Exit question: Who’s going to replace him at State? Gotta be Tucker Carlson, right?