It’s been an eventful week. The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has barely been able to keep track of the devastation in Texas, renewed North Korean belligerence and the return of FBI Agent Dale Cooper.
But it’s worth taking a few moments to note the sad end of Sebastian Gorka’s government service. According to The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, Gorka resigned because he felt that President Trump was drifting away from his Make America Great Again roots:
In a blunt resignation letter, the national security and counterterrorism expert expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of the Trump administration. “[G]iven recent events, it is clear to me that forces that do not support the MAGA promise are — for now — ascendant within the White House,” Gorka wrote. “As a result, the best and most effective way I can support you, Mr. President, is from outside the People’s House.”
Of course, those remaining in the White House had a slightly different interpretation of how things went down, as my colleague Philip Rucker notes:
Officials said it was widely known that White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who has been restructuring the West Wing to stem infighting and chaos within the staff, was eager for Gorka to depart the administration.
While Gorka publicly released a resignation letter expressing his displeasure with the changes that he felt left his faction silenced, two White House officials insisted Gorka did not resign but rather was forced out. A third White House official said the “writing was on the wall” that Kelly wanted Gorka to leave. …
It was unclear whether Gorka shared his letter with anyone besides The Federalist. One White House official said that Gorka spoke with Kelly on Friday to discuss his exit and asked to visit Trump in person on Monday to hand him a departure letter, but was not granted that permission.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes reports that the White House went to extraordinary lengths to ensure Gorka could not physically return to the White House complex.
The gap between the criticisms leveled at Gorka and his actual policy remit has flummoxed some in the mainstream media.
Axios’s Jonathan Swan wrote:
The media coverage of him was ridiculous from start to finish. He was never remotely influential enough to warrant the amount of ink dedicated to him — the guy was Bannon’s strategist, sat in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and had no role on the National Security Council.
Blake Hounshell of Politico and Swan have a point. If Gorka did not have much in the way of actual policy responsibility, why was he the target of so much ire from my political science colleagues? Why all the ink spilled over someone who seemed like a grade Z Bond villain?
Indeed, now that I think of it, I do feel a small amount of pity for Gorka, because he wanted to be the next Cool Foreign Policy Guy but failed so badly at it. Being the Cool Foreign Policy Guy means being a trim, brilliant, funny man who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and Star Wars, who theorizes about Game of Thrones, drinks cheap wine, loves backdoor channels, and blurts historical analogies out of his mouth like he’s prepping for the world’s biggest oral exam, while somehow dressing sharply, because Cool Foreign Policy Guys are above all sharp. Sharp and nuanced. Cool Foreign Policy Guys never get angry; they only smile in a beleaguered, knowing manner and let their presidents do whatever they want. Go ahead, bomb a country, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Foreign Policy Guy.
Why couldn’t Gorka play that part more convincingly? A large part of this problem is of Gorka’s own making. The one thing he did copiously while at the White House was to go on radio and television. The media coverage of Gorka was greatly enabled by Gorka himself. In the first month of the Trump administration, he had already cooperated with profiles in The Washington Post, Politico and Wall Street Journal. This was not a shy boy. In crafting such an outsized public persona, he earned himself more critical attention.
There were two other reasons that Seb Gorka attracted so much criticism, however. The first was that he was one of the few Trump officials to come from the world of the academy. Most administrations hire some high-profile national security academics, folks like Anthony Lake, Condoleezza Rice or James Steinberg. Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration had more difficulty drawing talent from that pool. Gorka was pretty much the only national security academic of note. And any halfway-decent international relations professor could give a cursory scan of Gorka’s writings and infer that he was a lightweight. Remember, Gorka insisted that Trump’s Twitter feed could change the minds of China’s leaders; this is not a serious guy.
The final reason is that Gorka’s hypocrisy was limitless. He fancied himself as a tough guy, bragging on television about how “the alpha males are back.” Yet this is also a guy who blocked people on Twitter for any kind of criticism, who cold-called an academic complaining about public criticism directed at him.
Even the sympathetic Breitbart coverage unintentionally paints Gorka as a delicate hothouse flower. It notes that, “Gorka had also become deeply frustrated with the unprecedented levels of personal abuse propagated against him by the mainstream media” and that Gorka had grown weary of “the numerous bureaucratic obstacles used to slow down his work on national security issues,” including delaying his national security clearance.
Gorka couldn’t handle more than seven months of negative press and bureaucratic politics. This does not sound like alpha male behavior to me. He certainly does not sound like a Cool Foreign Policy Guy. He sounds like a thin-skinned blowhard. Admittedly, Washington is filled with dudes that fit that description. Most of those other dudes have a few more accomplishments under their belt and a modicum of self-awareness, however.
Do not weep for Gorka. As an expert in “The Ideas Industry,” I predict that Breitbart will hire him back. He’ll become a mini Dinesh D’Souza and will no doubt eke out a living on the conservative lecture circuit. Like D’Souza, however, no one outside the conservative fringe will think of him as anyone but a snowflake who melted under the glare of D.C.’s klieg lights.
The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts wishes Gorka good luck in his quest to become the next Cool Foreign Policy Guy. The hard-working staff is also grateful that it will never need to take Gorka seriously again.