Though Trump likes to boast of his fierce personal loyalty—both to his employees, and to his supporters—he has demonstrated a tendency throughout his life and career to throw even the most dedicated allies under the bus at moments of peak crisis. And with “peak crisis” as the default setting of the Trump presidency so far, this pattern of behavior is worth a close examination.
As I’ve written before, Trump’s professional inner-circle has been purged and reconstructed many times throughout his decades-long business career, with close alliances and partnerships frequently ending in a mess of litigation and public feuding.
In some cases, Trump cuts ties to avoid personal embarrassment. When Roy Cohn—the notorious attorney-cum-operator who was instrumental in getting young Donald established in New York City—was diagnosed as HIV-positive in the ‘80s, Trump promptly ditched his friend and mentor. Stunned by the betrayal, Cohn reportedly marveled, “Donald pisses ice water.”
In other cases, Trump has sacrificed personal loyalty in search of a scapegoat. In 1990, he sought to shift the blame for the early failures of the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City onto his younger brother, Robert. According to one former executive who later recounted the episode in a book, Trump bitterly rebuked his brother—who worked for him at the time—in front of other employees. “I thought you could handle this,” Trump said. “I must’ve been out of my mind. I let you make recommendations. I’m sick and fucking tired of listening to you.” Robert responded by storming out of the casino, unwilling to endure further abuse.