Normally, a president under siege would not hire someone like Anthony Scaramucci, the loudmouth financier known as “the Mooch” who joined the White House last week as communications director. Donald Trump’s strife-ridden administration already has more than its share of troubles, with the Russia collusion investigation escalating, the president feuding with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the Republican discord over Obamacare repeal (RIP, for now). In the midst of this turmoil, Scaramucci created his own drama by calling up New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza and insulting his White House colleagues in the crudest possible terms. Scaramucci called Reince Priebus “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” and compared himself favorably to Trump’s chief strategist, saying, “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the president. I’m here to serve the country.”
In most administrations, Scaramucci’s public badmouthing of his colleagues would be a major liability, likely a fireable offense. But Trump operates from a different set of rules—the same rules, it would seem, that Scaramucci operates from. Reading his rant to The New Yorker, it was hard not to recall the infamous Access Hollywood tape in which Trump boasts about sexually assaulting women: “You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.” Indeed, Scaramucci is a sort of mini-Trump: brash, hyper-masculine, bro-loyal, sexually crass, and street smart, perhaps, but not actually smart.
Which is to say, Trump and his new minion aren’t just colorful personalities, but members of a particular species: the New York douchebag. That’s why Scaramucci may long remain in good standing—as long as he doesn’t break one golden rule.
The New York douchebag thrives throughout the tri-state area, particularly in New Jersey and the outer boroughs of the city proper. Usually white, he is belligerent, garrulous, ruthlessly competitive, and excessively confident in his persuasive abilities. He is also hypersensitive; the smallest perceived slight will trigger a full-scale defense of his pride. He demands to be respected at all times.
To the extent that the New York douchebag has politics, he tends to be a fiscal, hawkish conservative: reliably Republican, in other words, but only socially religious (if at all). He believes in his right to make loads of money without paying much taxes, advocates manly military responses to defend the pride of the U-S-A, but doesn’t want to ban abortion or roll back gay rights. Indeed, he will defend those rights if the issue affects a family member, for he professes to value blood relatives above all else.
Trump is the quintessential New York douchebag, but to win the Republican nomination, he had to make peace with the Southern evangelical base of the GOP. Toward that end, Trump implausibly reinvented himself as a social conservative, giving powerful posts to Southern traditionalists like Jeff Sessions and religious conservatives like Mike Pence.
But Trump is clearly happiest in the company of his fellow tri-state douchebags. During the campaign, he spent a great deal of time around figures like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, two exemplars of the species. Trump wasn’t able to find administration jobs for either of them, and met with resistance from conventional Republicans like Priebus for trying to hire Scaramucci, whom The New York Times described last week as “a financial showman who rivals Mr. Trump’s own outsize knack for self-promotion.”
Now that Scaramucci is in the White House, Trump has a fellow douchebag he can commune with. “Scaramucci’s arrival was described by one adviser as ‘a cannonball from a diving board into a pool,’” Politico reported on Thursday. “With his brash outer-borough New York ethos and flair for showmanship, Scaramucci is perhaps more like Trump himself than anyone else on the White House staff—and his appointment is a clear signal that the president is walking away from his initial embrace of establishment Republicans familiar with Washington.”
But as the Times noted on Friday, Scaramucci is just the latest of the species to join the White House. “Scaramucci’s fiery first week, a brash, blustering performance that at times verged on self-parody, illustrates a deeper truth about the Trump White House: New Yorkers have taken over the West Wing and are turbocharging its culture.” The Times cited a “long list of people from the New York metro area who occupy prime real estate near the president: Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino Jr., Keith Schiller, Kellyanne Conway, Gary D. Cohn, Dina Powell, Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Jason D. Greenblatt, Michael Anton, Josh Raffel—not to mention Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Reporter Mark Landler added, tellingly, “The vibe, to be sure, is less Manhattan than tristate...”
Washington Post reporter Robert Costa made a similar point Thursday, tweeting that “Trump has long history of keeping around aides w/ a sharp edge, who channel him.” He cited Roger Stone, Sam Nunberg, Michael Cohen, Corey Lewandowski, adding, “I’ve observed Pres. Trump interact w/ these types. Relishes rough, raw personalities... as long as they don’t get too much credit/notice. As other aides grow weary, Scaramucci survives. Spirited NJ-NY types (Conway, Scavino) are safe.” Of course, “spirited NJ-NY types” is just a polite way of saying “New York douchebag.”
The importance of loyalty for Trump has long been overblown: He demands loyalty from those beneath them, but offers none in return. He will—and does—jettison underlings the moment they become useless or inconvenient to him. But the bond between New York douchebags is real. The likes of Scaramucci are not invincible, but they have a much longer leash—so long as they know their role. For the New York douchebag is keenly aware of hierarchy. As he claws his way up the ladder, he’s keeping one eye below, and will kick anyone who comes too close. If Scaramucci does get booted out of the White House, it won’t be for making crude comments about his coworkers. It’ll be for getting more press than the president.
For one day, at least, Scaramucci did exactly that.