The price of loyalty to Donald Trump is high and rising

The following article by James Hohmann with Breanne Deppisch was posted on the Washington Post website February 17, 2017:

THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump has an unending need to feel like he’s in total control of his surroundings. That helps explain why he’s felt so frustrated and lashed out so much over the past month. The president’s alpha male personality drives him to firmly assert himself whenever he can, whether in handshakes with foreign leaders or at lunch with friends.

It’s a little thing, but it’s telling: When Chris Christie came to the White House to discuss the opioid epidemic earlier this week, Trump made him order the meatloaf.

“This is what it’s like to be with Trump,” the governor of New Jersey recalled afterward. “He says, ‘There’s the menu, you guys order whatever you want.’ And then he says, ‘Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf. … I’m telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous.’”

When Christie told that story on a sports talk radio show yesterday, the host was incredulous: “It’s emasculating. Another man tells you what you’re eating and you eat it? Not acceptable! I don’t care who it is.”

“No, it’s not,” Christie replied sheepishly. “It is the president. … And the meatloaf is good.”

The meatloaf moment is just the latest, if smallest, indignity that Christie has suffered since he chose to endorse Trump one year ago.

  • Trump ribbed Christie during a joint appearance for spending so much time in New Hampshire instead of New Jersey, even as the governor was under fire back home for skipping a state trooper’s funeral.
  • “No more Oreos,” Trump told Christie during another fundraiser last March.
  • When Christie introduced Trump at a rally in Tennessee last spring, the candidate told him on a hot microphone, “Get on a plane and go home. It’s over there. You go home.” To which Christie replied, “You got it. Okay.”
  • The New Yorker reported last June that Christie had “transformed himself into a sort of manservant.” One Republican told the magazine that a friend of his on the Trump campaign used Snapchat to send him a video of Christie fetching Trump’s McDonald’s order. (Christie’s office categorically denied this.)

Christie’s reward for this level of fealty was to get narrowly passed over for vice president and then, after the election, purged as head of the transition team, possibly as part a revenge play by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner (whose father Christie sent to prison as a prosecutor).

Donald Trump poses with his then-wife, Ivana, outside the federal courthouse after she was sworn in as a United States citizen in 1988. (AP File)</p>

Like father, like son: The president’s insistence that Christie eat meatloaf reminds me of an anecdote that was deep in a New York Times story last May about Trump’s relationship with women. Ivana Trump, his ex-wife, recalled an episode with his dad from when they were dating: “Fred would order steak. Then Donald would order steak. … I told the waiter, ‘I would like to have fish.’ … And Fred would say to the waiter: ‘No, Ivana is not going to have a fish. She is going to have a steak.’ I said, ‘No, I’m going to have my fish.’ And Donald would come home and say, ‘Ivana, why would you have a fish instead of a steak?’ I say, ‘Because I’m not going to be told by somebody to have something which I don’t want.’”

Ironically, Trump singled out that nine-month-old Times story during yesterday’s surreal press conference. At the time, Donald went on the record to defend his father telling his girlfriend that she couldn’t get the fish: “He would’ve said that out of love. He would have said that only on the basis that he thought, ‘That would be better for her.’”

Trump speaks beside Ben Carson during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room. (Michael Reynolds/EPA)</p>

— Feeling under siege, Trump has increasingly put a premium on loyalty. To wit:

A top aide to Ben Carson was fired and led out of the department of housing and urban development’s headquarters by security on Wednesday because he wrote critically of Trump last fall, according to the New York Times. “Shermichael Singleton, who was one of the few black conservatives in the Trump administration, had been working at (HUD) since Jan. 23 as a senior adviser. He was preparing a cross-country tour for Mr. Carson,” Maggie Haberman and Yamiche Alcindor report. “But according to the two people briefed, Mr. Singleton’s background check had not been completed. As it was being finished this week, Mr. Trump’s advisers turned up public writings by Mr. Singleton that appeared during the later stages of the campaign in which he was deeply critical of the candidate.”

An initial vetting by HUD and White House personnel had come up with the critical op-ed he wrote for The Hill. “He answered a number of questions regarding the article and expressed remorse for the piece and support for Mr. Trump,” per Maggie and Yamiche. “But a second look may have done him in. On Wednesday, Mr. Singleton was presented again with the piece and told it was the reason for his termination.”

Recall that last week Trump blocked Rex Tillerson from hiring Elliott Abrams as his deputy at the State Department after someone brought to his attention critical comments he had made during the campaign. That happened despite a job interview that had gone well. (Anne Gearan has more of that backstory.)

Hours after being identified as the whistleblower in the David Petraeus scandal, Jill Kelley attended&nbsp;a birthday gathering with Vice Adm. Robert Harward and her husband at her home in Tampa. (Bill Serne/NY Daily News via Getty Images)</p>

— This style of micro-management is preventing Trump from being able to recruit and retain the most talented people for his administration.

Last night, Robert Harward turned down Trump’s offer to replace Michael Flynn as national security adviser. “The administration had hoped to name the retired vice admiral to the position this week,” Jenna Johnson and Adam Entous report. “Even before Flynn resigned, the administration was wooing Harward. The hard-charging former Navy SEAL was at the White House on Feb. 8 and then again this week. Harward commanded high-risk operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and later parachuted into his own retirement ceremony from high altitude.”

One key factor in Harward’s decision to turn down the job was that he couldn’t get a guarantee that he could select his own staff.

From CBS News: “Trump told Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after the ouster of [Flynn]. Harward refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.”

From Politico: “According to an individual familiar with Harward’s thinking, the former Navy SEAL … turned down the Trump offer because he did not receive sufficient assurances about … autonomy. Specifically, the source said Harward wanted commitments that the National Security Council would be fully in charge of security matters, not Trump’s political advisers. … Trump’s decision last month to place his top strategist and former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon on the (NSC) was roundly criticized as a departure from tradition. … The individual familiar with Harward’s thinking, who asked that he not be identified, cited the ‘unwillingness of White House political team to be deferential to the White House national security team’ and ‘unwillingness of [the] White House political team to be malleable’ as driving factors in why Harward demurred.”

This morning Trump signaled who his third choice for the job will be:

— Defense secretary James Mattis has clashed with the Trump high command over who should get top jobs at the Pentagon, as well. Josh Rogin reported before the inauguration that Mattis had to learn from the press that Trump had selected Vincent Viola, a billionaire, to be secretary of the Army. “Mattis was furious,” a source said. Viola later withdrew his name from consideration.

Rex Tillerson arrives to board his plane for Germany at Andrews Air Force Base. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)</p>

— There was a great deal of speculation before Trump took office that he planned to delegate more authority to cabinet heads than Barack Obama did because he was not as interested in the specifics of policy. But this missed the deeper truth that Trump wants to maintain maximum control. So it should come as no surprise that the White House continues moving aggressively to consolidate and seize as much decision-making authority as possible from as many places as possible, especially bureaucrats and diplomats who are not 100 percent loyal to Trump.

Just yesterday, Tillerson’s enforcers at the State Department laid off staff at Foggy Bottom while the secretary traveled in Europe. From CBS: “Much of seventh-floor staff, who work for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor offices, were told today that their services were no longer needed. These staffers in particular are often the conduit between the secretary’s office to the country bureaus, where the regional expertise is centered. Inside the State Department, some officials fear that this is a politically-minded purge that cuts out much-needed expertise from the policy-making, rather than simply reorganizing the bureaucracy. … Two sources also told CBS News that Ambassador Kristie Kenney, the Counselor of the State Department and one of the last remaining senior officials, was informed that she will be let go. She is a career foreign service officer who had served as an ambassador under Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton.”

Also noteworthy: Not a single State Department official was included in the White House meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. From the CBS story: “Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner – who has no regional expertise or diplomatic experience – had a greater role in the meeting than the Senate-confirmed secretary of State. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Tom Shannon was on the official schedule to take (Tillerson’s) place but was then shut out of the White House meeting.”

Trump: ‘Leakers … are going to pay a big price’

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