The two men who agreed to become Trump's top White House advisers have also found themselves in the woodshed. Trump publicly questioned Stephen K. Bannon's importance to his campaign back in April. And Thursday, Reince Priebus was subjected to an apparently Trump-sanctioned series of attacks from new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on live TV. Later, Scaramucci was revealed to have attacked both Priebus and Bannon in very vulgar terms, including saying, "I’m not Stephen K. Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock."
I don't doubt there is some strategy here. Plenty of White House reporters have noted competition between aides is what Trump likes, and rebukes from the chief executive are how Trump keeps his aides humble and assures loyalty.
To her credit, incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was pretty blunt about it on Thursday afternoon, saying Trump "likes that type competition and encourages it." So he encourages aides accusing other aides of crimes on national TV. Got it.
"With that competition, you usually get the best results," Sanders reasoned. Hours later, Scaramucci's vulgar comments about Priebus and Bannon were reported by the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza. Sanders's response on Fox News? "I think sometimes we have a lot of passion -- not just passion for the president and the agenda, but sometimes when you have the best people from around the country coming in with a variety of backgrounds, very different perspectives, you may not agree on everything."
You can see why this might appeal to Trump, coming from the business world. But now that he's president, all of this is taking place with the entire world watching. In each and every one of these situations, his aides and supporters are seeing their own personal brands and integrity attacked and undermined in very public ways. Sessions's whole political legacy is at risk of coming to an unceremonious end. Scaramucci just accused Priebus of a "felony," in so many words. And it's difficult to argue Spicer's six months as White House press secretary haven't done irreparable damage to his reputation for honesty.
The appeal of working in the administration is clear: You are helping to run the show for the leader of the free world, you get a big profile, and waiting on the other side of those doors is usually a big payday. The question Trump's aides have to be asking themselves is: At what cost? And you can bet future potential chiefs of staff and attorneys general and press secretaries who could be next in line for public abuse are asking themselves that same question.
It's been said many times before that loyalty is a one-way street with Trump, and it's 100 percent true. But this is more than that. Those who have served Trump at the highest levels have almost universally come in for ritual humiliation and embarrassment, often in pretty personal terms.
If it was just about getting fired, that would be one thing. Trump almost seems to revel in degrading his aides; it's all a reality TV show to him. We'll see how long the contestants want to play the game.