Now that the Trump administration has come to an unpleasant and ignominious close, a looming question remains: What will happen to the enmities incurred in what was a famously contentious administration? Many, if not most, former government officials stay in Washington, and they have long memories. Kennedy aide Chuck Daly recently wrote a memoir, Make Peace or Die, nearly 60 years after the end of the Kennedy administration. With post-administration tenures potentially continuing for as many as six decades, outgoing officials need to think about the enemies they made while in office, and what to do about them after the administration ends.
Fortunately, history provides some answers regarding what to do, and what not to do. George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James Baker was a tough opponent in internal fights, but he also had a gift for moving past things. He feuded with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp, seeing Kemp as a "High School Harry" who got involved in matters outside his purview. Their disagreement got particularly heated over the issue of Israel, for which Baker was a critic and Kemp had been a staunchly pro-Israel congressman.
According to Peter Baker and Susan Glasser's The Man Who Ran Washington, Baker once got so mad at Kemp that he shouted, "F--- you, Kemp!" in the Oval Office, a shocking breach of etiquette. After the meeting, Kemp chased after Baker, and they nearly got into a physical altercation in front of press secretary Marlin Fitzwater's office before being separated by national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. Yet Kemp later apologized to Baker in a contrite note, in which he wrote that he "had nothing but praise for you and the job you & the Pres. have done," adding, "Jim, I'm not only your friend, but I'm on the same team & while teammates can argue once in awhile (& even fight) you can be assured of my respect, friendship & loyalty." Baker sent back a nice note, writing, "Thank you for it and for the apology which I fully accept. And for your 'respect, loyalty & friendship,' which I reciprocate. It's water over the dam." It probably also helped that their wives were good friends.
Another apology in that administration that was given, but did not appear to change things, was one that domestic policy aide Jim Pinkerton gave to the hyperterritorial budget director Dick Darman. Pinkerton had been trying to inject new ideas into the administration under a rubric called "The New Paradigm." Darman, who, along with chief of staff John Sununu, actively worked to suppress the bubbling up of new ideas from below, gave a speech deriding Pinkerton and his ideas, using the dismissive phrase, "Brother, can you paradigm?"
Darman then came to a meeting that Pinkerton held of fellow reformists and continued his critique. The two men then had a long war by proxy in the media. Eventually, Pinkerton, the junior player in rank, tried to bring the episode to an end with a note: "Dear Dick, we've had our differences but we must unite to help the President." They met and had what Pinkerton described as "a correct meeting," in which neither party accepted any blame but they agreed to move on. The outreach saved Pinkerton's job, but it did not make the men friends. As recently as the summer of 2020, Pinkerton wrote that his reformist efforts in the Bush White House were "met with a combination of passive incomprehension and active ridicule." He did not mention Darman by name, but it was clear from the comment that Darman's behavior still rankled.
Two rivals who actually got over it were Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger, who served under John F. Kennedy. The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Schlesinger was the more famous of the two, but Sorensen was closer to Kennedy, had a bigger role in the Kennedy White House, and jealously guarded his turf. As Schlesinger later wrote of Sorensen, "Justifiably proud of his special relationship, he tended to resent interlopers."
Kennedy himself recognized Sorensen's sensitivities as well, at one point asking Schlesinger to punch up a speech that he found lacking, but to make sure his efforts were kept quiet. Kennedy's instructions to Schlesinger were revealing: "Rework this a little, but don't tell Ted I asked you." On another occasion, when Sorensen was trying to block Schlesinger's edits from inclusion in a final draft, Kennedy knowingly joked that "Ted certainly doesn't go for additions to his speeches!" When some of Schlesinger's words did make that speech, and those words made the New York Times's "Quotation of the Day," Kennedy knew that Sorensen would be put off, telling Schlesinger that "Ted will die when he sees that."
The rivalry intensified after Kennedy died, as both men were trying to beat each other out of the gate with post-administration memoirs. Sorensen even asked Schlesinger to hold back on finishing his memoir so Sorensen could publish first. Schlesinger said no, and Sorensen acknowledged that, in this period, "Our friendship was temporarily strained." Even so, later in life, they had clearly reconciled, and Sorensen generously dismissed the notion that they were ever rivals: "Competitor? It could be as easily asked whether I regarded tennis champion Arthur Ashe as a competitor! Arthur Schlesinger was an intellectual giant, liberal champion, prodigious writer, and leading scholar while I was still figuratively in knee pants."
In the Obama administration, Alyssa Mastromonaco had an unpleasant first interaction with economic adviser Larry Summers. She admitted to being a little "starstruck" over first seeing him at the Obama transition office. Her mooning ended, though, when Summers "whirled around and asked [her] to get him a Diet Coke." Mastromonaco was mortified, as her "admiration turned to contempt. The gall! The nerve! The bad man! I was so offended." While she did "begrudgingly" get Summers that Diet Coke, she also "decided to write him off forever as a douche bag" and "committed to rolling [her] eyes (internally) every time he spoke." Summers, however, who was presumably unaware of this one-sided feud, later helped tutor Mastromonaco, who became deputy White House chief of staff, on technical economic concepts. Mastromonaco warmed to Summers as a result. In her memoir, she reports learning from Summers that one should "never judge a book by its cover."
Another type of feud that often breaks out in administrations is between officials and the reporters who cover them. Bush chief of staff John Sununu had a famously difficult relationship with the Washington Post's Ann Devroy. He upbraided her publicly at one White House event, shouting, "You're a liar. Your stories are all lies. Everything you write is a lie." Even after Devroy died tragically of cancer, at 49, in 1997, Sununu maintained his grudge. In a 2000 oral history, Sununu made a cruel joke about Devroy vis-a-vis her Post colleague David Hoffman, saying, "My favorite Washington Post reporter, I think it was Ann Devroy, is on the plane. It was either she or Hoffman. They're twins, they're virtually indistinguishable. Hoffman didn't shave as often as she did." When reminded of Devroy's death, Sununu said he "almost" felt guilty about it, "occasionally, but not really."
Staffer-journalist feuds can also come to a positive resolution. In the Carter administration, the New York Times's William Safire tormented Jimmy Carter's OMB Director (and Carter's close personal friend) Bert Lance over allegations that Lance had misused bank funds before his time in government. Safire had a gifted pen and used it relentlessly on Lance, calling him a "bankitician" and naming his columns "Carter's Broken Lance" and "Boiling the Lance." Even though Lance would eventually be exonerated, he was finished politically. Carter Energy Secretary James Schlesinger observed that "when Safire got on the case, as I recall it, the New York Times got on the case, you just knew that Bert had had it." Safire's campaign succeeded on multiple levels, as Lance was forced to resign, and Safire won a Pulitzer.
Lance could have wallowed in bitterness, or put up a Safire dartboard in his basement, but he took a different approach. He sent Safire a Christmas card with a New Testament verse on it saying, "Love those who despise you" (Matthew 5:44). Safire replied with a fitting, but perhaps less conciliatory, biblical verse of his own: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32). Still, the ice had been broken, and the two former enemies became friends. They would meet, have lunch, and talk politics at Milton Pitts's Washington barbershop. Safire included Lance and his story in Safire's book on the famed biblical sufferer Job. Later, when Safire's colleague Maureen Dowd asked how he could befriend someone to whom he had been so cruel, Safire replied, "Only hit people when they're up."
Unfortunately, despite the examples such as Sorensen, Lance, and Baker, many former staffers are more apt to choose the opposite approach. In the Truman administration, Secretary of State George Marshall was so mad about losing the battle over recognition of Israel to White House aide Clark Clifford that he never again spoke to Clifford, or uttered Clifford's name for the rest of his life. The historian Richard Norton Smith recalled that Ford and Nixon chief of staff Al Haig so hated Ford aide and master infighter Bob Hartmann that he held a grudge against Hartmann for decades. Smith told David Gergen in an oral history interview that "we talked to Haig before he died, and the thing that got him red-faced with anger, 35 years later, was Hartmann." Reagan chief of staff Don Regan, who was fired in part because of his feud with Ronald Reagan's wife, Nancy, got his revenge by revealing in his memoir that Nancy Reagan based key White House scheduling decisions on astrology. Matt Scully, a George W. Bush speechwriter who felt that his boss Mike Gerson was a credit hog, wrote a blistering article in the Atlantic highlighting the ways in which he felt Gerson had slighted him.
These post-administration decisions about reconciliation or continued rivalry can have real consequences at both a personal and an administration level. On the personal side, it's best to avoid having an enemy continuing to denigrate one in the press, or in his or her memoir. More broadly, sniping post-administration can damage an administration's legacy, while reconciliation can help burnish a reputation in the final campaign — the campaign for historical reputations.
The intensity of the Trump rivalries, coupled with the frequent historical examples of ongoing grudge-holding, suggests that wide-scale reconciliation among former rivals is unlikely. Jonathan Karl recalled in his book Front Row at the Trump Show that former White House aide Anthony Scaramucci sent a text message praising Karl's "scathing" review of Trump press secretary Sean Spicer's book. The text revealed that enmity between the two former aides had not abated at all in the time since they had left the White House: "You left two things out: he was a bag carrying congenital liar for Reince [Priebus] and if he was born 100 years ago, the movies would have been called 'The Four Stooges.' My nickname for him was Liar Spice. Every Spice Girl has a nickname — that's his!" Karl's assessment of what to expect in the years ahead from exiting White House antagonists was cutting: "Years from now, the veterans of the Trump White House will have one hell of a reunion."