"It will not get better": Former Bush administration official has a warning about President Trump's administration

Ex-Condoleezza Rice aide Eliot A. Cohen also has strong words for conservatives who are working with Trump

By Matthew Rozsa

Published January 31, 2017 2:15PM (EST)

 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Yet another former official for President George W. Bush has gone on the record criticizing President Donald Trump — this time it's Eliot A. Cohen, who served as a counselor to former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice from 2007 to 2009.

Trump's first week as president has already been marred by a "dark and divisive inaugural speech, extraordinary attacks on a free press, a visit to the CIA that dishonored a monument to anonymous heroes who paid the ultimate price, and now an attempt to ban selected groups of Muslims," Cohen wrote in The Atlantic. He pointed out that "because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better."

Cohen predicted that Trump's poor character and choice of advisers will "probably end in calamity — substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have." Cohen continued, "It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better."

He went on to condemn his conservative friends who are thinking of working with or even for the dangerous new president.

"For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time," Cohen wrote. "Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it."

That said, Cohen ended his article on an optimistic note: "In the end, however, he will fail," Cohen predicted. "He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible — The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends.

Added Cohen: "He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say 'enough.' He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia."

Cohen is not the first former Bush administration official to speak out against Trump. In an opinion piece for The New York Times posted earlier this month, former chief White House ethics lawyer Richard W. Painter slammed the president's numerous conflicts of interest:

"He continues to refuse to release his tax returns, even though many of his cabinet nominees will have to disclose theirs in order to get confirmed by senators skeptical of, among other things, foreign business entanglements," Painter wrote. "He also did not announce a divestment of ownership interest in his businesses, even though this is a step that his own cabinet appointees will have to take in order to comply with a federal conflict of interest law. Instead, Mr. Trump will simply turn management of the businesses over to a trustee chosen by him, and to two of his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric. This is not a separation at all, and from a conflict of interest vantage point, it won’t work."

Similarly Lezlee Westine, who served as White House director of public liaison and deputy assistant to the president under Bush, endorsed Hillary Clinton in August. Although she didn't directly attack Trump, her reasons for endorsing Clinton seemed to indicate that she was concerned about Trump's lack of experience.

"Our nation faces a unique set of challenges that require steady and experienced leadership," Westine said. "That is why today I am personally supporting Hillary Clinton. She has the expertise and commitment to American values to grow the economy, create jobs and protect America at home and abroad."

The former political director for president Ronald Reagan, Frank Lavin, returned to the themes of Trump's character when endorsing Clinton that same month.

"Trump falls short in terms of the character and behavior needed to perform as president," Lavin wrote. "This defect is crippling and ensures he would fail in office."

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Donald Trump Eliot A. Cohen Frank Lavin Lezlee Westine Richard W. Painter