The removal of Esper then isn’t terribly notable in and of itself. (In ANY other administration, firing the secretary of defense in a tweet would be a massive story, of course. As would a president on his fourth acting secretary of defense in two years.)
But what Esper’s firing means is something that is very much worth taking note of, because it marks the first move in what could well be the wildest and most unbound 72 days in modern American political history.
So losing will make Trump very angry. And embittered. And vengeful. And less willing to even attempt to paint within the lines of acceptable behavior.
“Win or lose, President Donald Trump may well seek to pardon members of his family, officials in his administration, and possibly himself — even, as Gerald Ford did for Richard Nixon, before any of them are convicted of anything.”
And then there are the other moves — whether via executive order or on the regulatory front — that we might not even be thinking about right now. And that we may not even realize Trump has done until he is formally out of office at noon on January 20.
The point here is simple: Pandora’s box is open. The genie is out of the bottle. Pick whatever cliche you like but they all add up to the same thing: A President who has always seen his office as a way to reward friends and punish enemies will now have a 10-week period that will be increasingly consequence-free for him as the realization that he will not win a second term sets in. (The only thing potentially tying Trump’s hands somewhat is his interest in running again in 2024. But his most loyal supporters would likely see any actions taken by Trump in his final days as a fitting kiss-off for the establishment in both parties.)
Donald Trump in a good mood — and somewhat reined in by his advisers and future political concerns — is a scary thing. An irate Trump with lots of power and no compunction about how he uses it? That’s downright terrifying.