In a new report for the Washington Post on Thursday, reporters Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker outlined the grueling and “Kafkaesque” standards President Donald Trump places demands of his aides — standards that now-former National Security Adviser John Bolton failed to live up to.
“He tolerates a modicum of dissent, so long as it remains private; expects advisers to fall in line and defend his decisions; and demands absolute fealty at all times,” they wrote.
One anonymous source for the piece explained how his demanding nature is also, at times, excruciatingly paradoxical:
“There is no person that is part of the daily Trump decision-making process that can survive long term,” said a former senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “The president doesn’t like people to get good press. He doesn’t like people to get bad press. Yet he expects everyone to be relevant and important and supportive at all times. Even if a person could do all those things, the president would grow tired of anyone in his immediate orbit.”
Anthony Scaramucci described the role of Trump’s staff in particularly degrading terms. In his view, Trump wants “catatonic loyalty” and for his people to act as props. Others told the Post that Trump likes to stage disagreements between his aides and then “play emperor” and decide the winner.
Dozens of Trump aides and appointees have fallen from his grace and been ousted from the administration for failing to play the dutiful role to perfection: former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, former Chief of Staff John Kelly, and former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, to name just a few.
Notably, Bolton wasn’t going to be a prop in this game. When Bolton entered the White House, it was clear to most observers — though apparently not Trump — that he was committed to enacting his vision of foreign policy, one that contrasted sharply with the president’s preferences. It seems Trump appreciated and tolerated Bolton at times, but Bolton’s goal was to manipulate the president in the end. Once even Trump realized that Bolton wasn’t just a tough-guy war-monger stage prop, but an ideologue using the president for his own purposes, he had to go.
The piece interestingly doesn’t mention the roles of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law, in the White House. They seem to defy the usual standards for Trump’s aides, and he clearly doesn’t view them as disposable, like a chief of staff or a national security adviser. Being family is different.
But the piece also doesn’t address some of the outlier aides in Trump’s orbit. Why have, for example, Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller stuck around so long? How did they avoid the fate of so many others — especially when they both have gotten their fair share of bad press?
Fundamentally, though, the account rings true for the vast majority of Trump’s people. For example, consider that, in the video that sparked the “Sharpiegate” story, Trump had the acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan sitting off to the side, voiceless, acting like a prop and displaying the doctored weather map:
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 4, 2019