Reality TV routinely diverged even further from reality when Donald Trump zestfully delivered his iconic line on The Apprentice.
As he had demonstrated in the building of the iconic tower where The Apprentice was shot, Trump has tremendous difficulty firing people in real life, most particularly if he has personally hired them.
“It’s admitting he made a bad decision,” Barbara Res, who was the top construction engineer on Trump Tower, told The Daily Beast on Monday. “He always said he has the best people. He brags about that. Even when he doesn’t have the best people, he says he does. Everybody around him has to be the absolute best, because he’s the best. He’s better than the best.”
Res allows that Trump can be quick to say “You’re fired” when angered by people whose services he has retained without embracing them as employees and blessing them with his personal imprimatur.
“He can fire people he gets mad at, lawyers and architects,” Res says. “He can just get rid of them.”
But that all changes if the person is a member of Team Trump and therefore a reflection of him. Trump then seems pained even by the prospect of acknowledging that one of his chosen ones has proven lacking.
“He feels bad,” Res says. “Which is kind of a human side. And he is very much not a human.”
Res describes in her book All Alone on the 68th Floor what she terms a “hiring mistake” when Trump employed a building superintendent for his tower.
“He was German, and as with most nationalities, Donald had a sense of the value of Germans and he believed it was in building management because they were very clean and thorough to a fault,” Res wrote of the man Trump chose to be super to the stars. “Only this guy was very useless. He knew zero about construction.”
Res added, “He had zero personality. He might have been perfect for a building in Brooklyn, but not Trump Tower.”
Res and another supervisor gave the man two weeks, but finally went to Trump “to tell him he had to go.”
“OK, fire him,” Trump said by her recollection.
The other supervisor did the deed.
“Nicely, but firmly,” the book reports. “Next thing we know, the guy marches across the street to Donald’s office and gets himself rehired. I went nuts. Donald said we didn’t really give the guy a chance. It took two more firings for it to stick.”
Res writes: “Maybe Donald can unceremoniously say, ‘You’re fired,’ to actors on a TV show, but in real life, he hated to do it. When someone had to be fired, Donald laid the job off on an underling.”
In recent days, a variation on the tale of the German super to the stars has seemed to be playing out on a huge scale with the retired general Trump had chosen to be his national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
On Dec. 29, three weeks before Trump became president, Flynn had a phone chat with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The inauguration was still five days away when Vice President Mike Pence was asked on the Jan. 15 Sunday news shows if Flynn had discussed with the ambassador the sanctions that President Obama had imposed on Russia.
Pence told Fox News, “I talked to General Flynn yesterday, and the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to the new U.S. sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats.”
Pence told CBS News, “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
As you would think someone with Flynn’s extensive experience would expect, his conversation with the ambassador had been recorded by U.S. intelligence. Perhaps Flynn did not think that alternate facts were a big deal. He also may not have anticipated that Pence’s denial would prompt acting Attorney General Sally Yates to notify the White House counsel of the discrepancy.
That was on Jan. 26, Trump’s sixth day in office. White House press secretary Sean Spicer says the president was informed “immediately.”
To be fair, Trump must have become a touch distracted, as he issued his tumultuous travel ban two days later. Yates came to play a prominent role in this controversy as well.
On Jan. 30, Yates determined that the immigration order was unlawful and instructed the Justice Department not to enforce it. She was immediately fired, as quickly as if she had been a New York shyster who provoked The Donald’s ire, though he never actually announced, “You’re fired!” in person or even on the phone. The deed was done with a hand-delivered letter.
But when it came to somebody as close to him as Flynn, Trump the president seemed not so different from Trump the builder. Flynn was still on the job the night of Feb. 9, when a Washington Post report caused Pence to belatedly realize that he had been misled. Pence is said to have been considerably more upset that Flynn lied to him than he has appeared to be on occasions when the Trump administration lied to the entire nation. Pence may have also wondered why Trump had failed to tell him the truth despite having learned it 11 days before.
Last weekend, Flynn flew down to Mar-a-Lago with Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Flynn helped brief Trump on a ballistic missile launch by North Korea, and there were no obvious signs of trouble between the national security adviser and the president.
At 5 p.m. on Monday, White House frontwoman Kellyanne Conway insisted, “Gen. Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president.” Spicer was not so sure when he addressed reporters not an hour afterward.
“The president is evaluating the situation,” Spicer said.
Then came a development that a New York guy such as Trump should have foreseen when he violated the old rule “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” by firing Yates—she being a person with whom he had no personal connection and certainly would not be mistaken as a Trumpster. Word of her “heads up” to the White House counsel about Flynn’s chat with the Russian ambassador reached The Washington Post, which posted the story around 8 p.m. Monday.
By 11 p.m., Flynn was out. His departure may have been further accelerated by word that the Russians had deployed a ground-based cruise missile in contravention of a long-standing arms-control agreement. And reporters at The New York Times were hearing that a number of Trump aides had been in contact with Russian intelligence last year during the campaign.
Conway and Spicer managed to contradict each other a second time about a situation where the national security adviser had lied and might even face criminal charges if he had failed to tell the entire truth when the FBI interviewed him.
Conway said Flynn’s resignation had been voluntary. She told TV news, “Mike Flynn had decided that it was best to resign. He knew he’d become a lightning rod, and he made that decision… and of course the president accepted that resignation.”
Spicer told a different story at the White House press briefing on Tuesday afternoon. Spicer said, “The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for General Flynn’s resignation.”
In other words, Spicer was saying, Trump had fired Flynn. There remained the mystery of why the president had waited 17 days after the White House learned the truth.
“Maybe Donald didn’t think he had to fire him,” Res told The Daily Beast. “Or maybe he thought somebody else could do it for him. That’s why it took him so long. He really doesn’t like to fire people.”
Perhaps Trump learned something about the difference between reality TV and reality, between being a rich kid New York builder and being the president of the United States. Perhaps he will keep learning.