“For the last 3 years I have fully supported this President,” tweeted the former White House communications director about his onetime boss and longtime friend. “Recently he has said things that divide the country in a way that is unacceptable. So I didn’t pass the 100% litmus test. Eventually he turns on everyone and soon it will be you and then the entire country.”
“Eventually he turns on everyone.”
That might seem like an exaggeration made by a disgruntled former friend. It’s not. For a man whose life has been defined, in large part, by his open embrace of his inconsistencies and contradictions, one of the very few things Donald Trump has been consistent about is that he goes from love to loathing quickly. If you are close to him (unless you are a member of his immediate family) you are on the clock. It’s only a matter of time before he tires of you – and turns on you.
Consider these names (and this is far from a complete list): Michael Cohen, Omarosa Manigault Newman, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, Jeff Sessions, Steve Bannon, John Kelly, Paul Ryan, Cliff Sims, Donald McGahn, Chris Christie and Scaramucci.
All were once close to Trump. All were once publicly praised by Trump. And all are now on the outs with him, the result – in virtually every circumstance – of Trump finding fault with them, whether in how they were performing the job he had tasked them with or in how they defended him (or didn’t) at all costs.
“I need loyalty,” then-FBI director James Comey famously said Trump told him in the first week of his presidency. “I expect loyalty.” And loyalty to Trump is blind fealty to him – no matter the consequences or the law.
He turned on Sessions, one of his most loyal surrogates during the campaign, when as attorney general, Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe. According to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Trump repeatedly sought to get Sessions to un-recuse himself. At one point, Trump reportedly told Sessions this:
“AG is supposed to be [the] most important appointment. Kennedy appointed his brother. Obama appointed Holder. I appointed you and you recused yourself. You left me on an island. I can’t do anything.”
I, I, I. Me, me, me.
In the wake of Cohen’s arrest on charges of tax evasion and other financial wrongdoing, Trump took to Twitter to praise Cohen as a “fine person with a wonderful family.” Added Trump:
“Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!.”
Once Cohen agreed to a plea deal, Trump’s tone changed. A lot. “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen,” he tweeted in August 2018.
I, I, I. Me, me, me.
Trump’s worldview simply doesn’t allow for people to remain close to him for any extended period of time. In the President’s mind, the only person who lives up to his standards is him. Everyone else will, eventually, disappoint him. And when you disappoint him, he will turn on you. Every. Damn. Time.
It’s why Trump has lost nine Cabinet secretaries already in his first term – despite being only two-and-a-half years into it. It’s why, according to figures kept by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas at Brookings, 75% of Trump’s “A team” – his top staffers across the government – have left in his first term already. (Those numbers are significantly higher than the attrition rates for past presidents in their first terms.)
And it’s not going to stop. Scaramucci is the latest victim of the Trump turn, but he won’t be the last. This is a feature not a glitch of Trump – and it has been his whole life.
Being in Trump’s inner circle is (again with the exception of family members) a kiss of political death. You don’t know exactly when he will turn on you. But you have to know he will do it.