Close observers in Washington, along with anyone who reads a newspaper, might have noticed a wee bit of churn in President Trump’s Cabinet. With David Shulkin’s
resignation firing from the Department of Veterans Affairs, “Trump has had more Cabinet turnover [in 14 months] than 16 of his predecessors had in their first two years,” according to NPR’s Tamara Keith. In the past month alone, Trump has gotten rid of Shulkin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Economic Council head Gary Cohn and national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
There’s a lot of chatter about how all this disruption lets Trump be Trump, but this overlooks the fact that his Cabinet still exists. Some of Trump’s Cabinet officers have managed to do their jobs well. Others have managed sufficient levels of competence or luck to avoid scandals.
Then there is everyone else.
Which leads us to the following question: Who is the worst member of Trump’s Cabinet?
“Worst” might be too vague a term. An awful lot of people dislike Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for example, for valid reasons. That said, Sessions has managed to avoid accusations of greed or bumbling. And that’s what we are looking for — the Cabinet members whose venality or incompetency is so large that they feed the narrative that Trump is beclowning the executive branch. This crew is bad enough for this White House to complain about optics.
So who is the worst? In honor of the NCAA college basketball tournament, let’s consider this using the time-honored tradition of bracketology. My seedings of the Elite Eight of Trump’s Cabinet:
Seed No. 1: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt: CNBC cited The Washington Post in February regarding his travel problems:
Records show taxpayers had to pay at least $90,000 during a period in June when Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt traveled first class from Washington to New York and to Cincinnati and Rome, with his aides flying coach. Pruitt traveled from Cincinnati to New York on a military plane at a cost of $36,068.50 to catch his first-class flight to Rome.
And now CNN reports renewed White House frustration with Pruitt over his … um … unique housing arrangements in D.C.: “the source of the frustration stems from the fact that White House officials began learning about this issue from media reports, not Pruitt himself.”
Pruitt’s twin scandals give him the commanding top seed. And since Tillerson was fired, he gets a first-round bye.
Seed No. 2: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos: Maybe a month ago, DeVos’s disappearance from the media might have caused her to drop in the rankings. But now I’m just going to leave this video here:
DeVos’s attempted Twitter defense of her interview did not go well, either. DeVos also gets a first-round bye with Shulkin’s departure.
Seed No. 3: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. Carson was also called onto the White House carpet for his questionable spending priorities. Carson is a rising star of incompetency, aided by the fact that he knew absolutely nothing about housing policy before taking the job. The only thing Carson has excelled at over the past month has been blaming his wife for his mistakes.
Seed No. 4: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin’s spouse has attracted more attention than he has for her myriad indulgences. He was not berated by the White House for his travel scandal.
On the other hand, Mnuchin’s ignorance of many policy matters has become painfully obvious, most recently on Fox News Sunday:
Mnuchin is very good at displaying slavish devotion to Trump. His devotion to the Constitution is more questionable.
Seed No. 5: Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Let’s go to CNBC again:
In October, Interior’s inspector general said it had opened an inquiry after Zinke disclosed he had taken three charter flights since March, when he became Interior secretary. One of those flights, a $12,735 late-night trip, took him from Las Vegas to Montana, his home state.
Interior’s Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall warned Zinke in November that her investigation had been hampered by his failure to keep complete records of his travel while in office. Kendall also indicated that she was looking at the travel of Zinke’s wife, Lola, with him on official trips.
Zinke was also called to the White House because of his travel scandals. Think of him as the mid-major equivalent of Pruitt.
Seed No. 6: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. To his credit, Ross has remained mostly unscathed in the scandal department. But he has demonstrated low energy to the point where even Trump has noticed. And only DeVos rivals Ross’s unparalleled ability to look bad on camera:
So, who wins? As befits 2018. the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts relied on Twitter polls to get to the Final Four:
In upsets, both lower seeds knocked off their higher seeds, though Ross just barely edged out Carson. Which left Pruitt, DeVos, Ross and Zinke. And the winner is:
Congratulations to EPA Administrator-for-now Scott Pruitt!! Although a strong favorite, Pruitt battled tough competition to win the coveted title of Worst Cabinet Member of this administration. In the words of Chris Christie: “I don’t know how you survive this one, and if [Pruitt] has to go, it’s because he never should have been there in the first place.”