Stephen K. Bannon, whose feud with President Trump spilled into open view last week, may find some solace in the tale of Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) if he hopes to find himself back in the president's fold. (Though it doesn't look hopeful.)
Corker had one of the most vicious spats with Trump just a few months ago, with both repeatedly trading barbs. But Monday, the two traveled together to a Farm Bureau meeting in Nashville, raising speculation that they had at least partially mended what had seemed an unworkable relationship. This bizarre back and forth captures a fundamental truth about Trump and his ever-shifting circle: Nobody is ever fully a Trump friend or an enemy, but instead travel somewhere between the two poles at any given point.
Here is a list of some people in Trump's orbit who have found themselves as sometimes enemies, sometimes allies of the president. You could call them the president's frenemies.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham
Perhaps no one better personifies the up-and-down experience of being frenemies with Trump than Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). The two have plenty of reasons to dislike each other: Trump gave Graham’s cellphone number to the world, a tactic of harassment known as doxing, when both of them were competing in the Republican presidential primary. And Graham, an early supporter of the probes into Russian collusion so loathed by the president, has offered somewhat regular criticism of Trump.
But observers have noted a change in the senator's tune of late. He has touted Trump's golf clubs after a round with the president, lambasted the very rebukes of Trump he once leveled himself and turned increasingly critical of the Russia investigation. Last week, Graham joined Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) in a formal request to the Justice Department asking for the criminal prosecution of Christopher Steele, a former British spy whose research led to the so-called Trump dossier, claiming that Steele had lied to the FBI — a development likely to please the president.
But there he was Monday on national television, poking fun at the president when asked about Trump's “very stable genius” tweet. “If he doesn't call himself a genius, nobody else will,” Graham said.
Sen. John McCain
Trump’s war with Sen. John McCain dates back to the early days of his campaign, when Trump disparaged the Arizona Republican’s record as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Since then the two have continued to spar; Trump vowed retribution against McCain for the senator's vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act, and McCain later went on the offensive, seeming to criticize the president's avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War for bone spurs, though he later denied that was his intent.
In September, McCain wrecked an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act with a thumbs-down vote, drawing the ire of the president.
But though McCain remains a critic of the administration, he has also worked to advance its priorities: He supported the vast majority of Trump nominees and was an instrumental vote in helping pass the sweeping tax cuts, aimed at wealthy individuals and corporations, that were so important to the president's agenda.
McCain, though he still voices criticism of the president, says he does not have any doubts which side he is on. “I get along with the Democrats, but please, I’m not their hero,” McCain told New York magazine in 2017. “They’re trying to use us. We will work with them, but have no doubt, their agenda is not our agenda.”
James B. Comey
It is by now an old story: James B. Comey, who as director of the FBI rebuked Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server and then announced that his office had reopened an investigation into the matter about a week before the election, was lambasted by Democrats for what many said were unconventional moves. Trump, then a candidate, praised him. “It took a lot of guts. I really disagreed with him. I was not his fan,” Trump said as the election neared. “I tell you what, what he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.”
But the tides turned as the FBI's investigation into alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign progressed. During a visit at the White House, Trump called Comey out by name, shaking his hand and saying, in what was both a compliment and a barb, “He's become more famous than me.” Comey later described an uncomfortable private dinner with the president in which he said Trump asked him twice to pledge his loyalty.
Trump fired Comey in May and called him a “showboat” and a “grandstander,” drawing wide outrage from across the political spectrum, including from many people who had sharply criticized Comey previously.
Comey has punched back with indirect posts seemingly aimed at Trump and his associates on Twitter and Instagram.
Sen. Bob Corker
Among members of Congress, Corker had one of the more bitter public feuds with Trump, which fell into public view after the senator voted against the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He referred to the White House as an “adult day-care center” and commented that Trump’s volatility could set the United States on a “path to World War III.” He accused the president of “debasing” the country with “untruths,” “name-calling” and “attempted bullying.”
Trump returned fire, calling him “Liddle Bob Corker” in October and saying the senator “begged” for his endorsement and decided not to run for reelection only when the president declined. He later said that Corker “couldn't get elected dogcatcher in Tennessee.”
But the two appear to be inching closer again. Corker, whom many critics had hoped might vote against the tax bill, instead helped carry it across the line. He traveled with the president on Air Force One on Monday to Nashville to attend a Farm Bureau meeting, drawing rumors that the two had made some amends. “You're great senator,” Trump reportedly said at the meeting.
Tension between Trump and his secretary of state spilled into public view after an NBC report alleged that Rex Tillerson had called the president a “moron” after a meeting at the Pentagon with the president’s national security team.
As The Washington Post reported at the time, Trump was upset with what he saw as arrogance on the part of Tillerson: He was irked by rumors of disloyalty; some of the secretary's arguments on global situations involving Iran, climate change and North Korea; and Tillerson’s “visible frustration” when overruled.
Tillerson, meanwhile, was frustrated by some of Trump's behavior, including the president's frequent and incendiary use of Twitter, which he has used to make statements that contradict Tillerson's, and Trump's remarks that there were “fine people” among the white nationalists marching at a rally in Charlottesville in August. Still Tillerson pledged his loyalty to the president after the incident and sought to play down the rupture.
Democrats have looked to Tillerson to rein in Trump's posturing with North Korea. Intrigue continues over if and when he will be replaced at the State Department.
Perhaps no one better personifies the confusing ride that makes for a frenemiship with Trump than Attorney General Jeff Sessions. An early and prominent supporter of Trump's candidacy — he was the first senator to endorse him — Sessions was awarded with the prominent Cabinet nomination, narrowly winning Senate confirmation after a wide debate. Just a single Senate Democrat voted to confirm Sessions.
But Trump quickly soured on Sessions after the attorney general recused himself from the investigation into possible collusion between the president's campaign and Russia, a decision Sessions faced great pressure to make after The Post revealed that he had spoken with the Russian ambassador twice during the presidential campaign, in direct contradiction of his assertion during his confirmation hearing that he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
Now, as pressure mounts on Sessions from Trump loyalists hoping to force him from his job, some Democrats have stepped in to defend him, for the sake of the Mueller investigation.
“I voted against Jeff Sessions and said he never should be there in the first place, given his record on civil rights, on immigration, on so many other issues,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday, according to CNN. “My view now is very simple: Nothing, nothing should ever interfere with the Mueller investigation.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell
Trump went after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in August after the failure of the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “For a thing like that to happen is a disgrace, and frankly it shouldn’t have happened,” Trump said, adding that he was “very disappointed in Mitch.” The criticism drew sharp responses from many prominent Republicans, including Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, an informal Trump adviser.
McConnell and Trump have since worked to patch things over, at least publicly, and McConnell was instrumental in passing the tax bill.