Donald Trump misses Rob Porter.
The former White House staff secretary resigned in February after the Daily Mail reported that he had abused his two ex-wives. Now, according to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, Trump wants Porter back, because he “misses the staff structure that Mr. Porter had helped build and implement.” The two have apparently been chatting on the phone more in recent weeks, and Trump has been seeking Porter’s advice on trade.
Trump staffing rumors can often be just that, and the president is reportedly aware that he may not be able to bring Porter back. But the fact that he’s even talking about it shows how little he cares about reports of violence against women.
Trump has a long history of employing men accused of hurting women, so it’s no surprise that he’s ready to forgive and forget when it comes to the allegations against Porter. And coming in the midst of a week when Trump is facing attacks regarding his own history with women, his nostalgia about Porter may have less to do with the former staff secretary’s managerial skills or expertise on tariffs. More likely, as is so often the case with Trump, it’s all about him.
Trump has never had a problem employing men accused of abuse
Rob Porter is just one of a list of men in the Trump campaign or administration who has been accused of abuse or violence against women. There’s Steve Bannon, who was charged with domestic violence and battery in 2006; Corey Lewandowski, charged with battery during the Trump campaign; Andrew Puzder, Trump’s first pick for secretary of labor, who was accused of assault and battery by his ex-wife; and speechwriter David Sorensen, who resigned shortly after Porter and whose ex-wife said he physically and emotionally abused her.
Then there’s Trump himself — he’s been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women. His ex-wife Ivana reportedly said in 1990 that he pulled out a fistful of her hair and raped her, though she has since denied the allegation. He has also smeared the women who have spoken out against him, calling them politically motivated liars; this tactic led to a defamation lawsuit by one of the women, Summer Zervos. And now, adult film actress Stormy Daniels says she was threatened and intimidated by Trump’s associates after a sexual encounter with Trump.
Trump’s public statements also make clear that he doesn’t take allegations of violence against women particularly seriously. In private, Trump reportedly called Porter a “sick puppy” after hearing about the abuse allegations against him. But in a public statement after Porter’s resignation, Trump praised the former secretary and expressed sympathy for the “tough time” he was having. “It was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad,” the president said.
Given that Trump’s official response to the allegations against Porter — allegations that included photos of one woman’s bruised face — was to express concern for Porter rather than his ex-wives, it’s no surprise that he’s now considering welcoming Porter back into the fold. “Sick puppy” comment aside, accusations of domestic violence have never bothered him very much when it comes to his staff — he hasn’t even tried to pretend that they bother him.
What does bother Trump is being criticized — and that may be why he’s thinking about bringing Porter back.
Hiring Porter back is really all about Trump
One detail in Haberman’s story on Trump and Porter is particularly revealing: “In Mr. Trump’s orbit, few people are ever permanently exiled,” she writes. “He often sees aides who are subject to public criticism as extensions of himself, coming under fire because critics want to attack him, and he has described the Porter situation in those terms to some people, those briefed on the discussions said.”
Trump is notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to criticism, and he’s been criticized a lot in the past few weeks, particularly about his history with women. Rather than blowing over, the Stormy Daniels scandal is heating up — in her 60 Minutes interview, Daniels said she’d been accosted in a parking lot in 2011 and told to “leave Trump alone,” a disturbing detail that points to possible abuse of power by Trump. On Monday, Daniels added Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen to her lawsuit against Trump, arguing that he defamed her by implying that she was lying.
Meanwhile, Trump experienced a setback in Zervos’s defamation lawsuit against him, with a judge ruling that the case can go forward in New York state court. On the same day, fitness expert and former Playboy model Karen McDougal sued the company that publishes the National Enquirer, seeking the right to speak openly about an affair she says she had with Trump.
Through all this, Trump hasn’t been relying on his usual coping mechanism: ranting on Twitter. Aside from a possible subtweet on Monday morning, he hasn’t tweeted about Stormy Daniels at all. It’s unclear why he’s been so restrained — maybe he’s worried about another defamation suit — but what is clear is that in the case of Daniels, he hasn’t been availing himself of his typical emotional outlet.
That leaves Trump subject to criticism without his favorite way of dealing with it. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Trump is getting misty-eyed over old friends he was forced to part with for reasons he doesn’t especially care about. According to Haberman, he’s also thinking about bringing back his former personal assistant John McEntee, who was ousted due to an alleged gambling problem.
But bringing back Porter would be a bigger coup for the president in some ways. It would be a way to show that there’s nothing — nothing! — wrong with a man accused of misconduct against women serving in the White House, a way of affirming that allegations of such misconduct really don’t matter at all. If Trump sees criticisms of Porter as attacks on him, then bringing Porter back would be a way of building himself up. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House,” Trump said of Porter after his resignation — words it’s easy to imagine Trump saying about himself.
According to Haberman, Trump knows he probably can’t really hire Porter back. But that won’t stop him from fantasizing about it. In his world, accusations of violence against women are entirely forgivable. What’s unacceptable is making him feel bad.
And so it’s no surprise that in this time when lots of people are saying bad things about him, the president is taking refuge in phone calls to someone else he may see as unfairly persecuted, someone whose situation may remind him of his own.