Scott Pruitt is a wart on the Trump administration—an embarrassment so comically corrupt that it’s become impossible to keep track of all the investigations into his unscrupulousness.
Scott Pruitt is also teetering. And if the president had any long-term strategic vision, he would recognize that a reckoning is coming for his Environmental Protection Agency chief—an inglorious final fall from grace—and that Pruitt’s exodus will ultimately be good for his administration.
Everyone else sees this. Pruitt’s traditional allies are fleeing. In recent days, Sen. Joni Ernst said Pruitt is “about as swampy as you get here in Washington, D.C. And if the president wants to drain the swamp, he needs to take a look at his own Cabinet.” Fox News Research has calculated Pruitt’s lavish spending, and dubbed his EPA the “(E)xpensive (P)ruitt (A)gency.” Meanwhile, the Washington Examiner’s Byron York and Tim Carney are calling him out.
Really, nobody is defending Pruitt anymore; even his last loyalists—a posse of (mostly) young Oklahoma women (whose salaries he tried to boost) are now being pushed out. (Isn’t it interesting that his team never consisted of more Oklahoma heavy-hitters? Why didn’t they follow him to Washington, too? I think we now know.)
One conservative insider tells me she’s not surprised by how this has turned out, that Pruitt was always known for cutting corners, that he was a show horse often taking credit for the efforts of others, like the clean-power litigation that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey did the painstaking work of actually securing.
(I should note that my wife is not the source, though she has previously consulted for some of Pruitt’s political action committees, as well as Morrissey’s campaign for U.S. Senate.)
Eventually, it was bound to catch up to him. You can defy gravity for only so long. But when you cut corners, eventually you get your comeuppance.
Rarely has that comeuppance been delivered in such a painful, humiliating, and prolonged manner. It suggests that Pruitt is not the cunning figure he thinks himself to be.
When playing office politics, there are three constituencies to keep happy. The first, and most obvious, is your boss. And Pruitt deserves an Oscar nod for his obsequiesness. He loves lavishing praise on Donald Trump, almost as much as he loves undoing environmental regulations. But keeping the boss happy will keep you employed only for a time. If you ignore the other two areas (peers and employees), you will eventually be shivved.
And Pruitt is now being shivved. He has not made friends with his colleagues. Instead, he’s alienated them. Examples include a Pruitt aide shopping negative stories about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, as well as Pruitt allegedly starting a rumor that he could be the next attorney general—while Jeff Sessions was still in the post.
Imagine if you are an employee at the Environmental Protection Agency, and your job is calling people to procure a used hotel mattress. Maybe you’re a young girl from Oklahoma with dreams of making America great again. And you come to Washington, D.C., and are effectively a servant whose job involves finding housing for your boss, or checking out pricey pens. How long could you do it? Clearly, these people are tired of defending the indefensible.
Trump must surely understand that his team is only as strong as its weakest link and that Pruitt is a rusty, decaying link. He’s stood by him till now. But the case for firing is getting almost too overwhelming to ignore. There are substantive reasons and superficial ones.
First, the substantive argument: We all know that Pruitt should go based on his ethical lapses, but if Trump wants his anti-regulatory agenda to endure, axing Pruitt is vital. Agency-authored regulatory changes are always subject to dramatic changes to begin with. When they’re put in by Pruitt, they are particularly flimsy. Pruitt’s fingerprints allow the next administration to point to his accomplishments as the products of corruption and cronyism.
There’s also the question of whether he’s accomplished that much at all. For a while, we have seen stories about how the “perception that he’s repealed Obama’s environmental legacy” is largely bogus. You might think this is liberal spin or “wishcasting.” But now, I’m starting to hear some conservatives quietly admit this, too.
Perhaps this won’t matter to President Trump. But the more superficial argument for why he should get rid of Pruitt probably will. It’s clear to everyone else that Trump’s EPA director wants to be president, thinks he’s smarter than the president, and is playing the president.
Trump doesn’t tolerate spotlight-stealers. And Pruitt has flown too close to the sun. Ultimately, there’s only room for one prima donna in this town. Likewise, Trump should also be aesthetically offended by Pruitt’s tacky attempts to enrich himself. Pruitt’s corruption is even more petty than Trump’s. (Used mattresses? Chick-fil-A? Basketball tickets? Sad!)
So much of this could have been avoided if Pruitt simply bided his time. He could have cashed in down the road like the swamp creatures that his boss once lamented. But his narcissism couldn’t wait. He is simultaneously someone with expensive tastes and incredible frugality. This combination rarely turns out well. And it won’t this time either.
Powerful conservatives in Washington are ready to cut Pruitt loose. Tired of circling the wagons, they are throwing him under one.
Expect more leaks to trickle out. Expect more embarrassing revelations. Expect more criticism from the right.
They are “going to the mattresses” so to speak.