Trump’s Ever-Mounting Scrap Heap – POLITICO Magazine
“Everything he touches,” Fred Trump once said of his son, “turns to gold.”
That was in 1973. Things are … a little different now.
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Ronny Jackson is only the latest to join the ever-growing scrap heap of the Trump administration—people who volunteered or were summoned to serve, only to find themselves discarded and disgraced. The Trump-adjacent damage ranges from blaring-siren legal woes (Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and poor-man’s-Roy-Cohn, fixer-attorney Michael Cohen) to reputational taint (Sean Spicer, Reince Preibus, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, global-CEO-turned-spurned-Secretary-of-State Rex Tillerson) to unexpected political collapses (Luther Strange, Roy Moore, Rick Saccone) in which the president’s support proved to be less Midas touch and more kiss of death. Rear Adm. Jackson was the mostly anonymous White House physician. Now, largely as a result of Trump’s decision to put him forth to be to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, he’s better known, fairly or not, as an ill-tempered, drunk-driving drug-dispensing “candy man.”
There’s always been a Trump World scrap heap—in particular in the moments in his life of maximum stress and duress—but it’s never been like the past 15 months.
“It’s something new,” Louise Sunshine, a former Trump Organization executive who’s known Trump for more than 40 years, told me.
“It’s a whole different world than he’s used to. What he did as a CEO, if he hired somebody, who’d question it? That’s not true on the world stage. He just wasn’t ready for it,” longtime New York lawyer and lobbyist Sid Davidoff said in an interview. “He was a CEO of a privately held corporation that did what he wanted to do. … It’s no news that he wasn’t prepared for what was ahead of him. And obviously the learning curve isn’t as sharp as it should be.”
And others, far more than Trump, are paying the price. That much, at least, is not new.
Three and a half decades ago, he bought the New Jersey Generals of the upstart United States Football League. Riding high thanks to the new Trump Tower, Trump was dead-set on being a George Steinbrenner-like professional sports team owner. “Creating illusions, to an extent, is what has to be done,” he told a reporter. Instead, it took him fewer than three years to effectively extinguish the USFL. One of his fellow owners, John Bassett of the Tampa Bay Bandits, threatened to punch Trump “right in the mouth” in a letter he wrote to Trump in 1986. “You are not only damaging yourself with your associates,” he said, “but alienating them as well.” Michael Tollin, the film director and producer, made a documentary for ESPN about the USFL. He called it Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL. The answer to the question in the title was Trump. “He killed the USFL,” said Tollin.
Four years after the Trump-led death of the football league, in early 1990, when his marriage was exploding and his finances were cratering, Trump let go or forced out most of his small cadre of key aides on Trump Tower’s 26th floor—public-relations wizard Howard Rubenstein, government-relations point man Tony Gliedman, shrewd attorneys like Gerald Schrager and Harvey Freeman.
At the same time, down in Atlantic City, in the wake of the snafu-riddled opening of the debt-heavy Trump Taj Mahal casino, he raged through another round of firings and demotions, calling his top managers there “scum,” “jerkoffs,” and “incompetent shit,” according to former Trump casino executive Jack O’Donnell’s 1992 book, Trumped! “I want people in here who are going to kick some ass,” he fumed in one meeting. “I want pricks. What I need are more nasty pricks in this company. Warriors.” He went on CNN and degraded one of the fired executives as “a Type C personality”—in retrospect a bit of an antecedent to the dig of “low-energy” Jeb Bush. “Type C is low key, you know, people that fall asleep,” Trump told Larry King.
“The truth is now I’m running my business the way I once used to, which is basically doing it all myself,” he told Newsday in 1991.
“A loner,” said a longtime adviser.
On Thursday, former Trump Shuttle president Bruce Nobles recalled Freeman, one of Trump’s most important attorneys. “I never went to a meeting that Harvey wasn’t in,” Nobles told me. “And he was sort of his sounding board. And when Donald got into his real financial trouble, he fired everybody—including Harvey.”
“He certainly doesn’t ever seem to be loyal to anybody except himself,” Trump biographer Gwenda Blair added.