The lat­est Trump ca­su­alty won’t be the last

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANA MIL­BANK Twit­ter: @Mil­bank

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.

Pence plainly can’t talk sense into Trump, ei­ther, and he could yet get the ul­ti­mate prize if Trump doesn’t fin­ish his term — but it would be un­der the most ig­no­min­ious cir­cum­stances.

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 over­the-top sup­port dur­ing the cam­paign, then cast him aside.

He de­mands loy­alty but of­fers lit­tle. Bod­ies, mer­i­to­ri­ous and oth­er­wise, pile up: James B. 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. Steven Mnuchin pro­duced a good film in “The Lego Bat­man Movie” but, as trea­sury sec­re­tary, he doesn’t know much about ne­go­ti­at­ing with Congress and is bar­rel­ing to­ward a de­fault on U.S. debt. 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.

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