As I’ve written before, Trump’s professional inner-circle has been purged and reconstructed many times throughout his decades-long business career, with close alliances and partnerships frequently ending in a mess of litigation and public feuding.
In some cases, Trump cuts ties to avoid personal embarrassment. When Roy Cohn—the notorious attorney-cum-operator who was instrumental in getting young Donald established in New York City—was diagnosed as HIV-positive in the ‘80s, Trump promptly ditched his friend and mentor. Stunned by the betrayal, Cohn reportedly marveled, “Donald pisses ice water.”
In other cases, Trump has sacrificed personal loyalty in search of a scapegoat. In 1990, he sought to shift the blame for the early failures of the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City onto his younger brother, Robert. According to one former executive who later recounted the episode in a book, Trump bitterly rebuked his brother—who worked for him at the time—in front of other employees. “I thought you could handle this,” Trump said. “I must’ve been out of my mind. I let you make recommendations. I’m sick and fucking tired of listening to you.” Robert responded by storming out of the casino, unwilling to endure further abuse.
Perhaps one of the most fraught positions for someone to occupy in Trump’s orbit is that of the PR man. Long before he earned the distinction of becoming the first president to live-tweet cable news, Trump was a headline-obsessed media junkie who devoured the New York Post daily and demanded round-the-clock attention from the publicists on his payroll. In one emblematic example from the early ‘90s, Trump became irate that he was losing the media battle with his first wife, Ivana, as their breakup dominated the tabloids—so he fired the public-relations consultant that his family had employed for more than two decades. Asked about the incident years later, the consultant, Howard Rubenstein, waved it off as a short-lived temper tantrum. “There was a time when [Trump] was upset with everybody,” he shrugged.
Still, in retrospect, the episode seems to have foreshadowed Trump’s widely chronicled displeasure with Sean Spicer. Several people who have worked with Trump speculated to me that the beleaguered White House press secretary won’t last long, if only because it’s virtually impossible to get passing marks from this president in that job. During the transition, one Republican who was being considered for the press secretary post told me he wasn’t interested because, “I’m in a good place with [Trump] right now … and that job is too easy to screw up.”
Throughout the election, Trump showed a similar inclination to churn rapidly through top aides and allies, with a perpetually in-flux campaign organization that was helmed by three different people in less than 18 months.