On Thursday, hours before The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza published his instantly infamous conversation with White House Communications Director Anthony “Mooch” Scaramucci, an image by photographer T.J. Kirkpatrick made the rounds on social media, capturing in one loaded gaze everything you needed to know about the new balance of power in the White House.
On the left we have Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. His hairline is receding, his shoulders are slumping, and his body is opening up to receive the long sword of the Mooch’s glare. Priebus’s wide eyes convey concern; one might even say he’s scared. Everything about Scaramucci’s pose, in contrast, suggests dominance: broad stance, thumbs casually hooked in belt, chin jutting, dark hair flowing. Next to him, Priebus seems to be an older model of the same White House official, looking back at his younger, more virile self. (In fact, Priebus is eight years younger than the Mooch.)
At the time this image was being retweeted and shared, the Mooch had already established himself as the new avatar of a White House 2.0. Earlier that morning, he had declared war on Priebus, suggesting that the chief of staff had leaked details about his finances to the press and was the source of other leaks that had damaged Donald Trump. (The details of Scaramucci’s finances were actually publicly available.) He said his relationship with Priebus was like that between Cain and Abel, and we all know how that ended. Scaramucci brushed off concerns that he was being too brazen, saying he did not care for Washington’s back-stabbing ways: “I’m more of a front-stabbing person,” he declared.
All of this is bizarre and unprecedented. A White House official accusing the chief of staff of treason (to the point of reporting him to the feds) and crowing about it on television—it broke new ground for the Trump administration in terms of both incivility and absurdity, which is saying something. And that was before Lizza’s report dropped, revealing that Scaramucci had, on record, called Priebus “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic.” He also called out Steve Bannon’s thirst for media attention, saying, “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.” And he threatened to fire a bunch of people from the White House who he claimed had let the president down. As one of my colleagues said, this was straight loco.
The Mooch is, to use one of Trump’s favorite terms, a killer. In Kirkpatrick’s photo, he is stabbing from the front, with his hips, with his whole demeanor. That glint in his eye, which is undoubtedly keeping Priebus up at night, is not mere excitement; it is something closer to blood lust. And Trump likes what he sees. According to the Daily Beast, “White House officials and outside allies say the president is revelling in Scaramucci’s campaign against Priebus.” The Mooch’s non-apology on Twitter had the swagger of someone who is golden with the boss.
None of this is happening by chance. As Trump grows more convinced that his enemies are everywhere, as he delves deeper into his paranoia, as he finds that the people on his team are incapable of joining him in the underground bunker of his mind, he has reached out to those who are willing to go beyond the pale. These people, inevitably, will be meaner and more psychotic than the merely craven and stupid specimens who, like Sean Spicer, have started to realize that their time at the White House is coming to an end. And when Scaramucci gets used up, who knows what will come next.