white house

Trump Hired Them, Then He Called Them Incompetent

John Kelly is the latest former Trump official to draw his old boss’s ire. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Forget the deep state, Robert Mueller’s team of “angry Democrats,” and the lawmakers who led the impeachment inquiry — there’s another force working to undermine the Trump administration from within. Someone who’s put complete idiots in vital positions of power. Someone who’s entrusted major administration initiatives to half-wits. Someone who, despite promising to hire the “best people,” keeps having to fire incompetents. That someone is Donald Trump.

Former White House chief of staff and alleged adult in the room John Kelly is the latest Trump hire to earn a presidential insult. Once a “star” member of the administration who was doing such a “great job” that Trump could not be “happier or more impressed,” the president now believes that Kelly was in “way over his head” and that he “went out with a whimper.” What changed? Fourteen months after leaving the administration, Kelly finally offered some lukewarm criticism of Trump in public, stating that his handling of accused war criminal Eddie Gallagher’s case was “exactly the wrong thing to do” and that immigrants are “overwhelmingly good people,” despite the president’s diatribes.

The pattern is familiar by now: Trump praises someone when he hires them and dumps on them once he’s fired them or, in some cases, before that. Any normal person might hesitate to publicly contradict their initial assessment to avoid exposing their terrible judgement. But that’s too complicated an idea for Trump, who believes people are brilliant when they do what he wants and “weak,” “wacky,” “clueless” “morons” when they don’t.

John Bolton

Before: As of June 2019, President Trump’s third national security adviser was doing “a very good job.” But three months later, Trump fired Bolton by tweet, frustrated by their disagreements on how to handle tense situations in Afghanistan, Iran, and Venezuela.

After: Trump was reportedly critical of Bolton in private during the administration, but the fallout truly hit in January 2020, when the New York Times reported on a detail from Bolton’s upcoming memoir that flew in the face of the president’s impeachment defense. According to the book, aid to Ukraine was directly connected to an investigation into the Bidens, despite what the president’s lawyers were saying. In an effort to discredit Bolton, Trump said that the Republican hawk “begged” him for a “non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying ‘Don’t do it, sir.’” Trump added that if he had listened to Bolton, the United States would be “in World War Six by now.”

Michael Cohen

Before: When Cohen first entered his orbit, Trump was still three years away from starting @realDonaldTrump, so he didn’t publicly lavish Cohen with praise. Still, it’s clear that Trump liked Cohen, whom he once called “a fine person with a wonderful family.”

After: Cohen left the Trump Organization in January 2017, but it took a while for his former boss to sour on him. August 22, 2018, was the big day. That’s when Trump tweeted: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” He’d later call Cohen, who worked for the Trump Organization for over a decade, “a weak person,” “not a very smart person,” a “bad lawyer,” and “a fraudster.”

Steve Bannon

Before: In August 2016, Bannon became Trump’s third campaign manager, and he’d stick by him through Election Day. After Trump’s win, the former head of Breitbart News transitioned into the role of chief strategist, which Trump created just for him. Bannon, and all of his shirts, hung around until August 2017, when Trump gave him the parting gift: a tweet calling him “tough and smart.”

After: By January 2018, Trump had turned on Bannon, branding him “Sloppy Steve” after the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, in which Bannon was extensively quoted. Bannon, Trump tweeted, “cried when he got fired and begged for his job.”

Omarosa Manigault Newman

Before: The former Apprentice contestant, whom Trump once called a “loyal friend,” was a trusted enough confidante to work as the Trump campaign’s director of African-American outreach and then land a job in his White House.

After: Once she was booted from the Office of Public Liaison by former White House chief of staff John Kelly and began criticizing Trump, he turned on her quickly. She became a “not smart” “lowlife” and earned the nickname “wacky Omarosa.” Trump added that he’d only kept her around because she said nice things about him.

Jerome Powell

Before: In November 2017, Trump passed over Janet Yellen for a second term as chair of the Federal Reserve, appointing Jerome Powell in her place. “He’s strong, he’s committed, he’s smart,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. “I am confident that with Jay as a wise steward of the Federal Reserve, it will have the leadership it needs in the years to come.”

After: Once Powell had spent a year on the job, Trump reportedly wanted to fire him. He denied it, but six months later he could no longer hide his contempt. “As usual, Powell let us down,” Trump tweeted in July. Now? Powell is “clueless” and “letting us down.”

Anthony Scaramucci

Before: The Mooch was anti-Trump before he was pro-Trump, aligning first with Scott Walker and then Jeb Bush in the 2016 primaries. By the time Trump had secured the nomination, the man who’d once called Trump a “hack” joined his team. In the summer of 2017, Trump repaid Scaramucci’s loyalty by hiring him as White House communications director. “Anthony is a person I have great respect for, and he will be an important addition to this administration,” Trump said at the time.

After: Scaramucci lasted 11 days in the job and returned to his anti-Trump roots in 2019. Now that he’s putting together a team of anti-Trump Republicans, the man who was once put in charge of promoting the administration’s message is “totally incapable” and “a highly unstable ‘nut job.’”

Jeff Sessions

Before: One of the first major politicians to back Trump’s campaign, Sessions was rewarded with the job of attorney general. But after committing the original sin of recusing himself from the Russia probe, Sessions was no longer worthy of Trump’s praise.

After: Sessions was the target of Trump’s barbs for more than a year before he was finally fired. Trump called Sessions’s Justice Department a “total joke” and suggested that the attorney general didn’t understand what was happening there. He’s reportedly called Sessions “mentally retarded,” “a dumb southerner,” and “Mr. Magoo,” though Trump denied saying any of these. What’s there no gainsaying is that Trump still harbors ill will toward his first fanboy.

Rex Tillerson

Before: When Trump was first considering Tillerson for the role of secretary of State back in December 2016, he tweeted that the former ExxonMobil CEO was a “world class player and dealmaker.” Two days later, Trump made his decision, tweeting that he’d “chosen one of the truly great business leaders of the world, Rex Tillerson,” for the job. And two months after that, following Tillerson’s confirmation, Trump declared that he would “be a star!”

After: The honeymoon didn’t last long. By October 2017, Tillerson was so fed up with Trump that he was calling him a “moron” in front of other Cabinet officials. By March 2018, Tillerson was out of the administration, and nine months later Trump came full circle. The once-brilliant Tillerson was suddenly “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.”

This post has been updated.

Trump Hired Them, Then He Called Them Incompetent