On H.R. McMaster’s Tenure as National Security Adviser

Last week President Trump tweeted that his National Security Adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, would be leaving the administration and would be replaced by John Bolton. McMaster is Trump’s second National Security Adviser since taking office, replacing former Lieutenant General Michael Flynn after the latter’s departure. As I noted in a previous post on Rex Tillerson’s departure as Secretary of State, McMaster’s exit only furthers the narrative that the Trump administration is rife with conflict and chaos, as it comes on the heels of both Tillerson’s exit as Secretary of State, Gary Cohn’s exit as Director of the National Economic Council, and Hope Hicks exit as Communications Director.

I don’t have a whole lot of insight to add to the discussion of McMaster’s time at the White House. Other articles have already provided reviews of his conflictual relationship with the President. This is more an update to previous posts to put McMaster’s tenure into a broader historical perspective. Michael Flynn’s tenure as NSA was unquestionably the shortest in the position’s relatively brief history. Rex Tillerson was also one of the shortest serving Secretaries of State—a position that has existed for a much longer time period than the NSA. So how does McMaster stack up?

Figure 1 – National Security Adviser Tenures by Start Date

Figure 1 shows all NSAs ordered according to start date, McMaster being the most recent to hold the position appearing at the bottom. Figure 2 shows each NSA ordered by the duration of their time in office. All values indicate the number of days that each individual held the position.McMaster’s end date is listed as April 9, the date that Bolton is slated to officially take over, which is the only specific date that I’ve found corresponding to his departure.

Figure 2 – National Security Adviser Tenures by Tenure Duration

Coming in at 413 days in office McMaster clearly remained in the position for much longer than did his predecessor, who only held the position for 24 days. Overall, McMaster ranks as the 6th shortest serving NSA since the position was created, having a significantly shorter term than anyone since Colin Powell. Even James Jones, who was rumored to have a difficult time fitting into the Obama Administration, remained in the position for 626 days. Notably, the longer tenures span across both recent Democratic and Republican administrations. However, his tenure is much closer to the “typical” tenure in Republican administrations—a mean of 750 days for Republican administrations versus a mean of 1274 for Democratic administrations. The standard deviation for Democratic administrations is also about half that of Republican administrations, suggesting greater consistency among the former. Though this is not a surprise given both Flynn and Kissinger are clear outliers on either end of the spectrum, and both served under Republican presidents.


Michael Flynn

About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

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