In retrospect, it was a perfect encapsulation of Donald Trump’s eventual career in politics. He had been planning a surprise for the 2012 Republican convention in Florida: A video of him growling his “You’re fired” catchphrase at someone impersonating President Barack Obama. He’d hinted at the video on Twitter (because it’s Trump), but it wasn’t hard to guess what he was up to, given that “You’re fired” and birtherism were Trump’s twin calling cards at that point. Oh, and because an Obama impersonator posted a picture of himself with Trump.
The video was never shown. Hurricane Isaac prompted the GOP to cut a day off its convention schedule, and Trump’s video was apparently deemed nonessential. Eventually, it leaked. There he is, saying “You’re fired” to some guy, just as he had on TV.
That “You’re fired” bit was central to Trump’s political shtick for a while. He retweeted people asking him to say “You’re fired” to Obama all the time. On occasion, he would offer his own assessments along those lines. In 2013, for example, he targeted Obama’s health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.
On the campaign trail, though, Trump didn’t use it as much as you’d expect. There’s a smattering of examples, usually directly related to talking about “The Apprentice.” In the spring of 2016, he said it a lot in defense of then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after Lewandowski grabbed a reporter at a Trump event.
“It would be so easy for me to terminate this man, ruin his life, ruin his family,” Trump said during a CNN town hall. “He’s got four beautiful children in New Hampshire. Ruin his whole everything and say ‘You’re fired.’ Okay? I fired many people, especially on ‘The Apprentice.’ ”
At other times, Trump has said that he doesn’t like firing people.
“I don’t like firing people. I hate firing people, but sometimes you have to do it,” Trump said in 2011. Shortly after that tweet about Sibelius, Trump made a similar claim: He just doesn’t like to do it, despite his “Apprentice” reputation.
Which brings us to former national security adviser John Bolton.
Bolton was fired Tuesday, a move announced by President Trump on Twitter. Or maybe Bolton resigned; it’s not yet entirely clear. That’s sort of par for the course by now. We’ve seen dozens of people leave the White House, often because they firesigned (resired?) in the same way as Bolton.
What’s also familiar is that it’s not clear Trump fired Bolton directly. On the TV show, Trump would sit across the table from the person about to be fired and say “You’re fired” while making a motion somewhat akin to a guy suddenly deciding what floor he wanted in an elevator. In the White House, though, Trump has preferred other techniques. Like firing someone who then finds out via news broadcasts (former FBI director James B. Comey). Or letting his chief of staff fire someone after hinting that a firing-via-Twitter was imminent (former secretary of state Rex Tillerson).
When we considered this point in March of last year, we couldn’t find anyone who had been fired by Trump and been informed of that decision by Trump himself. Since then, 30 more people have been fired or resigned. If Trump did tell Bolton to hand in his resignation, he might have been the first to get such an explicit instruction. In short order, The Post’s graphics team updated its meandering diagram of the senior people who’ve left Trump’s administration. To date, that list contains 60 names, from former deputy attorney general Sally Yates in January 2017 to Bolton.
Given the ever-present “Apprentice” shadow that hangs over departures from Trump’s White House, we were curious how Trump’s record of firings on the show compared with the departures from his administration. Most of those who left the show were fired (though someone quit in Season 3); most of those who leave the White House resign (though often under duress). Still: If we use the air date of the original “Apprentice” episode as a start point equivalent to Trump’s presidential inauguration, how do the two compare?
The bloodbath on “The Apprentice” happened at a faster clip — but not by much.
Only one person appears on both lists: Omarosa Manigault-Newman, fired by Trump in Season 1 of the show and in Year 1 of the administration.
It was about 240 days into Trump’s presidency that the number of people who had left the White House was closest to the number that had been fired from the TV show. At the end of Season 1, 15 people were gone (excluding the eventual winner, obviously). Until Season 2 started, that number held — allowing the 13 firings/resignations seen within Trump’s White House to draw close. (The 13th firing/departure was Seb Gorka, now a literal fish-oil salesman.)
But the White House couldn’t keep pace with the scripted terminations of Trump’s hit TV show. Over the first 900-plus days of each, “The Apprentice” axed an average of 8.6 people every 100 days. Trump’s White House is seeing departures at a more modest 6.2 people every 100 days.
If you’re curious, there have been about 215 people fired from the various iterations of “The Apprentice” since its debut. Doing the math quickly, it’s hard to see how Trump’s White House can keep pace with the departures on the show: Ousting 215 people at 6.2 people every 100 days would take 3,500 days — or about 9½ years. Regardless of how the 2020 election turns out, it’s unlikely that Trump will still be president in 2026.
He’ll just have to make up the difference by firing a few dozen staffers in a video to be shown at the 2024 Republican convention.