WASHINGTON – Sean Spicer wasn’t a Trump guy.
During the primaries, when he was chief strategist to the Republican National Committee, Spicer told friends that he was confident Donald Trump wouldn’t win the nomination and that if Trump did, both Spicer and RNC chairman Reince Priebus would have to do some soul-searching about whether they could remain in their jobs.
Not only did Spicer and Priebus continue, but also they became fierce advocates for Trump during the general election and took senior roles in his White House. A cynic would say they saw Trump as their meal tickets. A more charitable interpretation is that they were hoping to tame Trump, to temper the crazy. Mike Pence, who had reservations about Trump but accepted the vice presidential nomination, made a similar calculation.
The choice wasn’t irrational. I don’t blame them for trying. But they were wrong: This beast will not be tamed.
Spicer, disgraced for the past six months because of his extravagant pugilism and lavish untruths on Trump’s behalf, finally quit Friday.
Priebus, suffering the shame of being a chief of staff with neither power nor the president’s ear, will likely follow soon, at least if he wishes to keep intact some dignity.
In business, Trump tended to destroy those around him, walking away from failure relatively unscathed while others – lenders, partners, vendors – paid the cost. Something similar is happening to those around Trump now, but this isn’t a casino – it’s our country.
Nobody has been more slavishly loyal to Trump than Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of his earliest supporters in the Senate; now Trump is publicly savaging him. Trump is likewise disparaging Rod J. Rosenstein, the man he appointed to be the No. 2 at the Justice Department, as well as the special counsel that Rosenstein appointed. Trump has publicly contradicted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson twice (on Qatar and Russia sanctions) and has denied Tillerson even the dignity of staffing his own agency. Trump accepted Chris Christie’s over-the-top support during the campaign then cast him aside.
He demands loyalty but offers little. Bodies, meritorious and otherwise, pile up: James Comey, Preet Bharara, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Corey Lewandowski, Carter Page, Mike Dubke, Monica Crowley, Mark Corallo, Marc Kasowitz and, now, Spicer.
In comes Trump pal Anthony Scaramucci, financier and Fox News chatterbox, named White House communications director Friday. He appeared before the cameras to praise Trump (“he’s genuinely a wonderful human being”), to suspend disbelief (“I actually think the White House is on track and we’re actually, I think, doing a really good job”) and to say that “there is probably some level of truth” even to things Trump says that sound patently false. Asked if he’ll be truthful, he replied, “I hope you can feel that from me just from my body language.”
He’ll fit right in. This is more of the same for a president who prefers friends and kin to the threat to his ego that could come from appointing people with the experience to run the federal government and the heft to tell Trump when he is wrong. Trump’s Cabinet of billionaires has proven more adept at flattering their boss (Incredible honor! Greatest privilege of my life!) than navigating the bureaucracy. Young son-in-law Jared Kushner, out of his depth as he runs everything from Middle East peace negotiations to reforming the federal government, has, along with Donald Trump Jr., worsened the president’s Russia headaches.
Conservative foreign-policy academic Eliot Cohen in November wrote a prescient op-ed for The Post saying conservatives should not serve in the administration because Trump “is surrounding himself with mediocrities whose chief qualification seems to be unquestioning loyalty.”
Cohen argued that the president’s team would be “triumphalist rabble-rousers and demagogues, abetted by people out of their depth and unfit for the jobs they will hold, gripped by grievance, resentment and lurking insecurity. Their mistakes – because there will be mistakes – will be exceptional.” He predicted that until the administration can acquire humility and magnanimity, “it will smash into crises and failures.”
So it has. Luckily, the lack of expertise in the White House hasn’t been tested by a major crisis yet, such as war, a large-scale terrorist attack or economic collapse. The troubles Trump faces are of the self-inflicted variety.
Scaramucci won’t succeed any more than Spicer. The problem is more than personnel – it’s the principal.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.