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Coming to terms with the limits of Trump's loyalty

Reince Priebus was always loyal to Donald Trump, just like Sean Spicer and Jeff Sessions. But he sees loyalty as something he expects to receive, not bestow.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (C) speaks at the annual RNC winter meeting on Jan. 24, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (C) speaks at the annual RNC winter meeting on Jan. 24, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

In February 2016, at the height of the fight for the Republican presidential nomination, Ted Cruz shook up his senior staff, which Donald Trump immediately saw as an opportunity for ridicule. "Wow was Ted Cruz disloyal to his very capable director of communication," Trump tweeted at the time. "He used him as a scape goat - fired like a dog! Ted panicked."

While Trump implied he had higher standards, current evidence certainly refutes the implication.

Even as a candidate, Trump was routinely disloyal to top members of his team -- choosing three campaign managers in five months, for example -- firing staffers when the Republican no longer had any use for them.

And as a president, Trump has made clear he sees loyalty as something he expects to receive, not bestow. Sean Spicer was unflinching in his loyalty towards the president, which ultimately meant nothing to the man in the Oval Office. Jeff Sessions was loyal to Trump when no one else would be, and for his trouble, the attorney general is being publicly mocked by the president he helped elect.

And Reince Priebus never wavered in his Trump loyalty, only to be kicked to the curb by the president who didn't value his service. The Washington Post highlighted the final indignity of the former White House chief of staff's tenure.

Priebus' final departure was a humiliating coda for what had been a largely demeaning tenure during which he endured regular belittling from rival advisers -- and even, at times, the president himself. His exit was described by one Republican strategist as "the red wedding," a reference to a mass-murder blood bath episode of HBO's "Game of Thrones."When Air Force One touched down Friday afternoon at Andrew's Air Force base, Priebus, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and social media director Dan Scavino all loaded into a Suburban. But moments later, Miller and Scavino hopped out of the vehicle, and as word trickled out about the chief of staff's ouster, reporters inched close to snap photos of Priebus, who sat alone on the rain-soaked tarmac. Priebus' vehicle then pulled out of the presidential motorcade, which proceeded along to the White House without him.

The same article noted an anecdote in which Trump summoned Priebus to kill a fly for him during an Oval Office meeting.

Priebus is the latest piece of an ugly puzzle: Trump demands much of those around him, though he has a nasty habit of betraying them when he no longer sees value or utility in having them around. This is as true for White House aides at it was for Trump University students: everyone is expected to give to Trump whatever he demands, which he will gladly accept in exchange for fleeting rewards.

The question going forward is why anyone, anywhere, would expect anything else from the flailing president. If you were a prospective cabinet nominee, could you seriously expect Trump to have your back through thick and thin? If you were considering a senior position in the White House, wouldn't you wonder how long it'd be before your powerful boss mocked you via Twitter?

If you were a congressional Republican, weighing a tough vote on controversial legislation, how confident would you be about the president looking out for your interests?

In a piece that pre-dates Priebus' ouster, The New Republic's Brian Beutler noted, "[T]he vast majority of Trump loyalists have just made their first bargain with him, and the bargain wasn't expressly economic, but political. The indications that he will cut his political allies loose en masse when they become inconvenient to him are only becoming clear for the first time now."

Priebus now knows this all too well. Anyone who expects to work with the president in good faith will have to remember that, at a moment of his choosing, he'll betray them, too -- "like a dog."