The Corner

White House

Trump’s Constantly Backfiring Loyalty Tests

President Trump in the Oval Office during an interview with Reuters, January 17, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In response to Loyalty Tests May Hurt the Trump Administration

Perhaps no other president has put such a high priority on personal loyalty and public declarations of fealty, but it’s hard to argue that Donald Trump’s methods are working out the way he hoped. It’s not just that people leave this president and this administration frequently; it’s that so many have left on bad terms and reinvented themselves as presidential critics in one form or another.

Michael Cohen and Omarosa Manigault are the most vivid examples, but we can throw in Steve Bannon and Anthony Scaramucci as others who have popped up before crowds and television cameras, declaring where they think the president went wrong.

Former Trump lawyer Ty Cobb disputed his former client’s claim that he was the victim of a “witch hunt” and called Bob Mueller “an American hero.” Another former Trump lawyer, John Dowd, said after being fired that his relationship was Mueller was “terrific, completely open, people trusted each other, and we had no misunderstandings.”

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson offered some not-so-veiled criticism of Trump after leaving the administration. On his way out the door after being fired, former secretary of veterans affairs David Shulkin said Trump’s administration was beset by “some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans.” Gary Cohn, formerly Trump’s National Economic Council director, criticized Trump’s comments about the Federal Reserve.

Many former administration officials were believed to be Bob Woodward’s sources for his book Fear, describing particular White House meetings and what was going through the minds of various meeting participants. Cohn, Dowd, Bannon, White House staff secretary Rob Porter, and Trump’s first White House chief of staff Reince Priebus all feature extensively in the book, although Woodward will not specify his sources.

Perhaps soon we will be able to add former attorney general Jeff Sessions and the unnamed New York Times-op-ed-writing Administration Official to the ranks of former administration official-turned-critics someday.

Such overt and public demands for loyalty have left Trump particularly vulnerable to a familiar kind of shady operator, one who sucks up to the boss on the way in, does the job poorly once they’re in the job, and then trashes everyone on the way out. Perhaps the best people — and the ones with the keenest sense of professionalism — aren’t going to put on a grand show of loyalty. Perhaps allowing a bit more dissension in the ranks and honest constructive criticism would prevent this sort of volcanic eruption of pent-up resentment once these people turn in their White House passes. Making loyalty the top priority has given the administration uneven competence and disappointing results in that prioritized characteristic. One wonders if this administration would be better off with more folks who had criticized Trump in the past but who were now focused on enacting the policies of his that they supported.

Of course, Trump is who he is, and no one should expect him to change. But one would think that eventually Trump would get tired of hiring and promoting people on the basis of perceived loyalty and then enduring one epic betrayal after another.

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