How to keep your job in the Trump White House
A guide for those who don't want to be fired
Working in the White House is incredibly challenging — long hours, always being on call, in a high-pressure environment where the eyes of the world are on you and mistakes can have dramatic consequences. It's why very few people stay through eight years of a presidency, no matter how devoted they are; it's not uncommon for many to work there for a year or two and then say they're burnt out and have had enough, no matter how glamorous and exciting it might be.
But in President Trump's administration, voluntary departures aren't the problem; people are more likely to get pushed out, fired, or sidelined until they slink away. The hapless Sean Spicer is only the latest to get the message that his services were no longer required (though he resigned voluntarily after learning that he'd have to report to a new communications director with zero relevant experience).
So if you're in Trump's White House, how do you keep your job? A picture is beginning to form of what the best strategies are to stay in the boss' good graces. Let's run them down:
Praise him — like you mean it. There may be no more praise-hungry person in the world than Donald Trump — heck, if he isn't getting enough from those around him, he'll tell you himself how smart and accomplished and all-around fantastic he is. So if you want to win his favor, you've got to lay it on thick. Look to new Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci to see how it's done. Scaramucci went on three Sunday shows this weekend, and described his new boss by saying things like, "He's one of the most effective communicators that's ever been born," "He's probably the most effective legislative liaison person in the world," "He's got very, very good karma," "He has phenomenal instincts," and "I love the guy. I spent the last 18 months supporting him unyieldingly because he's a great person and he's going to be a phenomenal — he is a phenomenal president, and he's going to be a better president."
It wouldn't hurt to throw in some material about Trump's awe-inspiring physique — but a warning: Vice President Pence has the market on praising the breadth of the president's shoulders cornered, so you might want to find a different body part to focus on. Whatever you do, don't say it like you're Sean Spicer recording a hostage video. He has to know you feel it.
Protect him. Just look at the pickle Attorney General Jeff Sessions finds himself in, with Trump telling The New York Times he never should have hired him and blasting Sessions on Twitter. This despite the fact that Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump, a move that at the time seemed politically suicidal. But if he thought that he would be rewarded with Trump's loyalty, he was wrong. When Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, Trump became livid, and remains so to this day. Sessions thought that being A.G. was about rolling back civil rights protections and locking up pot-smoking hippies, but it turns out that it's about protecting Trump. A president who thinks he's above the law needs a chief law-enforcement officer who's there to make sure the law can't touch him.
That's the same reason former FBI Director James Comey got fired: He wasn't willing to give Trump a pledge of loyalty, and he had the temerity to investigate the fact that a hostile foreign power tried to manipulate our election. That simply could not stand.
Don't attract too much attention. Nothing will get Trump angrier at you quicker than if he thinks you're trying to horn in on his spotlight. Aides like Stephen Bannon have found themselves losing favor when they got too much attention from the press; after Bannon appeared on the cover of Time magazine, Trump made his dissatisfaction clear, and Bannon had to move to the background lest he continue to arouse the ire of a jealous boss. Bannon is now "in a self-imposed exile, having chosen to step back from Trump's inner circle for the sake of self-preservation," according to Politico.
Tell him what he wants to hear. It's never too hard to figure out what Trump wants; all you have to do is peruse his off-the-cuff remarks or check his Twitter feed to find out what really matters to him. Then you should be ready to move in with a proposal that validates what he already believes. If he thinks Hillary Clinton stole the popular vote, offer him an idea for a vote suppression commission that will validate that belief. If he wants to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, you might be able to talk him out of it temporarily, but it's going to put you on thin ice. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster keeps giving Trump honest assessments of situations in places like Iran and Afghanistan, which Trump doesn't seem to like at all; look for McMaster to be gone sooner rather than later.
Get him wins. It's obvious by now that Trump has almost no policy preferences. He used to be a liberal, now he's a conservative, and he probably couldn't tell you what either one involves. He's upset about the debacle of the GOP health-care plan not because there will be ongoing problems in the American health-care system, but because he's being deprived of a "win." Remember that Rose Garden ceremony he held after the House passed its version of the bill? It didn't matter to him what was in it or whether it was dead on arrival in the Senate — it felt like winning, so he wanted to celebrate. On the flip side, he openly suggests that it would be a great thing to "let ObamaCare fail" — i.e. allow (or intentionally create) a death spiral on the individual health-care market that would cause millions of people to lose their health coverage — because he thinks he could wring some political advantage out of it.
Republicans in Congress should know by now that they aren't his partners, and his support of them is always conditional. They need to bring him "wins," and if they can't, they'll become targets for his ire.
Be related to him. If you aren't, well, sorry. The only people Trump won't consider tossing aside if his own interests demand it are people in his own family.
What it all ads up to is this: If you're working for Trump or working with Trump, the most important thing to remember is that it's not about you, and it's not about the substance of what you're working on. It's about him. The purpose of the enterprise is Donald Trump's aggrandizement.
Keep that in mind, and you just might last.