On July 26, 2017, The New Yorker published a cartoon by artist Peter Kuper titled “Five Stages of White House Employment.” The illustration showed what had already become a familiar arc within Trumpworld: a “MAGA” hat-clad supporter enters a room on a conveyor belt, shakes hands with the president as he moves across the room, experiences uncertainty, and is inevitably knifed in the back as he exits the room by a president who is simultaneously tweeting.
Two days later, President Donald Trump announced plans to replace White House chief of staff Reince Priebus with then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. Three days after that, Trump ditched White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci who was just 10 days into the job.
Former staffers who dare to criticize Trump or do anything else he may interpret as a sign of disloyalty get hit with nasty tweets from the president as well as the full force of pro-Trump media. Priebus kept his head low upon exiting the White House while Scaramucci would eventually speak out against Trump, leading the president to slam him as “totally incapable of handling” the job he was hired for. As conservative media take their cues from Trump when it comes to his former allies and employees, Priebus largely remained in their good graces while Scaramucci has regularly been criticized by right-wing media.
This week, it's John Bolton's turn.
For more than a decade, Bolton worked as a contributor at Fox News, where he was the network’s go-to voice for warmongering. Fox cheered him on while Trump reportedly considered him for a cabinet position following the 2016 election, and his regular appearances on the network -- and the routine praise Fox hosts lavished on him -- surely played a role in his being hired as national security adviser. Though Bolton left the administration in September (Trump tweeted that he had fired Bolton; Bolton insisted that he resigned), it wasn’t until the past few weeks that pro-Trump media fully turned on their longtime ally. Over the weekend, that newfound hostility came to a boiling point with news that a manuscript of Bolton’s upcoming book contained damning information undermining the administration’s defense against impeachment.
Gone were the days of Bolton laughing it up with the Fox & Friends co-hosts while riding a Simply Fit Board, replaced by segments on Lou Dobbs Tonight with chyrons calling him “a tool for the left.” This is what happens when you get on Trump’s bad side:
The darlings of right-wing media are learning the hard way what happens when they cross Trump.
Fealty to the president ranks above all else. A career championing conservative causes means nothing if the advocate does not recognize Trump as an infallible demigod. It’s why Bolton got the boot in right-wing media circles, and it’s why so many others have faced a similar exile.
For more than a decade, Michael Cohen was Trump’s loyal attorney, a surrogate and attack dog unafraid to get in the faces of people who threatened Trump and his image. In April 2017, Cohen was named a deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, a position he held until June 2018. Once he turned on Trump, however, the party and its media allies turned on him.
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was hailed by Trump last year as “a really good man and great American” in an October tweet. A month later, Trump said, “I hardly know the gentleman.”
Breitbart was more than happy to run relatively straightforward articles about Sondland when it appeared that his testimony would vindicate Trump. Afterward, the site went scorched earth on the ambassador, calling him a “Jeb! donor, Never Trumper” even though Sondland had donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.
An August 2018 Breitbart article touted Defense Secretary James Mattis for being “notorious for his work ethic,” rattling off a list of accomplishments. Less than a year later, after the general had a falling out with the president, the site was running articles criticizing him for showing “a certain lack of vision.”
Trump regularly turns on supporters he views as insufficiently loyal, and he expects pro-Trump media to update their own loyalties accordingly.
Members of the pro-Trump press should remember there will almost certainly come a day when they are not pro-Trump enough.
Just this week, Trump threw a Twitter tantrum accusing thinly veiled pro-Trump propaganda outlet Fox News of favoring Democrats. The complaint dealt with an interview conducted by Fox “news”-side anchor Ed Henry with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), but it’s not entirely clear what Trump objected to other than Fox interviewing a Democrat. In fact, Henry even worked some pro-Trump questioning into the interview, asking Van Hollen about Hunter Biden.
It’s not enough that Shepard Smith, one of Fox’s original anchors, left the network after a war of words with opinion host Tucker Carlson. It’s not enough that each day begins and ends with hours of state television-like praise catered specifically to what Dear Leader wants to hear. It’s not enough that even its “straight news” shows regularly traffic in pro-Trump propaganda. It’s not enough that they’ll even change how they interview people based on Trump’s daily outbursts.
It’s not enough and it never will be. Trump is a real-life Galactus, a being who consumes entire worlds to temporarily satisfy an eternal hunger. The more Galactus feeds, the more powerful he becomes; the more powerful he becomes, the more frequently he must feed. The president feeds on attention, praise, and loyalty, and we’re long past the days when Trump’s hunger could be curbed by a B-list celebrity telling him that The Apprentice was the best show on television. Pro-Trump media can stave off his ego for only so long. Eventually, all worlds will be consumed, leaving only Trump.
Deep down, the people rushing to satisfy Trump’s media demands must understand that this isn’t sustainable. Deep down, they must know that helping an egotistical world-eater become the most powerful person on the planet was a strategic flaw. Trump will continue to turn on people who dare to question him, and when he does, he’ll look to his media allies to do the same. So far, it’s worked out well for the most sycophantic of outlets -- but as his Fox News criticism shows, it will never, ever be enough.