You don't get to be Donald Trump's partner. If you support him, you may get to play his sidekick for a bit, but ultimately you're making yourself an object of his abuse. If you attach yourself to Trump, he will eventually debase and demean you.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer are the two latest men to learn this firsthand.
Trump on Twitter attacked Sessions — who had been the first U.S. Senator to support him in 2015, and a man who has taken serious abuse to serve Trump — for not investigating Trump's political opponents aggressively enough.
Trump tweeted Tuesday morning: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!" This followed a Twitter post in which he publicly goaded Sessions ("So where is the investigation A.G.[?]"), and oddly tagged his fiercely loyal supporter, television and radio host Sean Hannity.
In a New York Times interview a few days earlier, Trump had expressed buyers' remorse for appointing Sessions as attorney general. Sessions' offense was recusing himself from the investigation into Russian collaboration with the Trump campaign. Sessions obviously had to recuse himself because he was active in the Trump campaign.
But doing the right thing is often the quickest way to end up on Trump's bad side. In this case, Trump wanted Sessions to protect him from an investigation, and Sessions didn't do it. So Sessions became Trump's punching bag, and thus an object of abuse from Trump's followers such as Hannity.
This comes days after Trump's spokesman quit following six months of debasing and demeaning treatment by the White House. Trump set the tone on day one, when he sent Spicer out to spin gratuitously and blatantly regarding the size of the inaugural crowd.
Repeatedly, Trump would let Spicer give an argument or explanation or denial, and then hours later Trump would tweet or say something totally undermining what Spicer and others had said. Cruelly and without explanation, the president excluded Spicer from an intimate meeting with Pope Francis.
Others who attached themselves to Trump have experienced the same sort of treatment.
Paul Ryan endorsed Trump and offered himself up as the man who would provide and advance a legislative agenda Trump could sign. Then Ryan, rightly, criticized Trump for his attack on the character and family of Khzir Khan, the Muslim Hillary Clinton supporter whose son gave his life serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq. So Trump expressed support for Ryan's primary opponent, and hinted he would endorse the challenger.
Establishing a pecking order — and dog-park dominance — is central to Trump's style of leadership. So if you join his dog pack, you will at some point be publicly shown your place. Ask Chris Christie about the fat jokes. Ask Steve Bannon, whom Trump belittled in April amid White House power struggles. Ask all the other aides whom Trump publicly undermined, contradicted, and made to look like clowns.
Sessions, Bannon, and Spicer are grown men, and they can handle the abuse. But Trump's treatment of them has broader harms. Trump's knocks on Sessions have reportedly harmed morale at the Justice Department.
And if Trump can blast and belittle one of his longest and most loyal soldiers, nobody not named Trump can feel safe. "There is a real morale problem and it goes all the way to the cabinet," writes Erick Erickson.
It may be impossible to stay in Trump's good graces. At the very least — as Ryan and Sessions learned when Trump went after them for doing the right thing — it seems impossible to stay in Trump's good graces without sacrificing dignity and propriety.
And Trump's most loyal media figures and followers seem ready to attack an erstwhile ally when Trump says "sic." If you work in the Trump administration, the best you can hope for is that he doesn't notice you.
Sessions and Spicer could have seen coming their mistreatment. Maybe they didn't. Maybe they just wanted to take a chance. But now it's crystal clear. Now everyone else in Trump's gang knows what to expect from their relationship with the man.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's commentary editor, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.