The first nine days of Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure as the White House’s director of communications was a combination of bluster, bullying, and charm mixed with a bit of crazy. But, then again, that’s the sort of recipe favored by Donald Trump, a president who acts with impetuosity and has little time for strategy.
In the end, Scaramucci was too much even for Trump, and on the tenth day, the former hedge fund executive found himself amongst a long list of White House staffers suddenly on the outs with the president: Citing a wish to give new chief of staff John Kelly a clean slate, Scaramucci stepped down (or was removed, depending on your interpretation of reports) from his position. It’s a week Scaramucci will likely ponder over and over again in the coming months:
Scaramucci’s brief White House stay also set an (unofficial) record for shortest tenure for a communications director, besting the previous mark of eleven days set by John Koehler in 1987. Though Ronald Reagan won the 1984 election in a landslide, thoroughly thrashing Walter Mondale, the end of his second administration was beset by staff upheaval and intense intra-cabinet bickering and back stabbing. Sound familiar?
Reagan had appointed Treasury Secretary Don Regan as his chief of staff in 1985, setting off two years of feuding between Regan and First Lady Nancy Reagan; in his 1988 memoir, Regan portrayed Mrs. Reagan as a puppet master who heavily relied on an astrologer to help guide and influence decision and American policy. Coupled with the Iran-Contra scandal, the executive branch of government seemed paralyzed. Perhaps the most illuminating example of the administration’s disarray during the last 24 months of the 40th president’s time in office was the appointment of Koehler as the new comm director, replacing Pat Buchanan, who resigned in January 1987 (and had his own issues with Regan and was mulling a run for president in 1988).
Mrs. Reagan was Koehler’s advocate within the administration. Largely on the advice of Charles Wick, head of the US Information Agency, Mrs. Reagan felt Koehler, a German immigrant who served as interpreter for the U.S. Army in World War II and former managing director of the AP’s world services, could best shape the president’s message, and rushed through his appointment. “It was done quickly and without running the usual traps,” a White House official told the Washington Post at the time, which is why no one discovered that Koehler, as a 10-year-old, had served for six mouths in a Nazi youth group in Germany known as Jungvolk.
Regan wasn’t consulted before Koehler was brought aboard, and since Koehler didn’t list his participation in the youth group “on his resume,” the chief of staff said the West Wing had no way of knowing his past activities. Sensing a much-needed opening to possibly decrease the First Lady’s influence, Regan immediately shifted blame to the East Wing—aka Mrs. Reagan—for the hiring. Meanwhile, Koehler reportedly couldn’t understand the uproar: growing up in Dresden, Koehler said his participation was “almost mandatory” and that he left Jungvolk because “[he] was bored.” And, in a bizarre deflection, he told the Los Angeles Times that both his first and second wives were Jewish, adding, “What does that make me? A Zionist or a member of the Stern gang?”
Asked whether his appointment was in jeopardy, he said it would be a “black day in journalism” if he was ousted. And yet, in early March 1987, 11 days after being named the new communications director (and five days after he officially began the job), he was asked to effectively resign, following Regan out the door, who the president had ousted the previous week before (the coincidences are quite eerie). Unsurprisingly, Dutch sided with his wife, telling Regan, “[Nancy is] being blamed for Koehler and she’s seen unfairly.”
Trump consistently refers to the Reagan years as a golden period in American history, that he wants to make America great again like it was in the 1980s. Certainly, the events of this past week show how the 45th president is following in Reagan’s footsteps, though it may not be the path Trump thought he would encounter just seven months into his administration.