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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Lessons in loyalty

by John Brummett | March 8, 2023 at 4:46 a.m.

All we can know for sure is that Donald Trump and Sarah Sanders deserve each other.

They seem somehow less than ideal characters for a sober contemplation of the moral obligations of the concept of loyalty--how it should be forged; under what circumstances it could be waived, and whether one's ultimate loyalty matters only to truth and right and a higher authority, be it the people or the Constitution or one's Lord.

As president, Trump used Sanders to misrepresent the truth. As a candidate for governor of Arkansas, she used him for her personal political underpinning, including untold millions in political contributions.

Now, does he--as a candidate seeking to get back to the presidency after he lost it and then egged on an insurrection--have the right to expect loyalty when he wants an endorsement from her for his campaign?

Does she, installed as a governor and possessed of apparent national interest and potential of her own, have the right to wait for more polling on that?

The point is that The New York Times ran one of those thoughtful news analyses the other day about Trump's more difficult path this time to the Republican nomination. In the section citing the hesitance of some of Trump's old aides to endorse him as yet this time, The Times relied on a report from two unidentified sources that Trump called Sanders weeks ago and asked for her endorsement of his presidential campaign and she said not yet.

Then Trump took to social media to say The Times was a lying newspaper and that he never asked for such an endorsement because he gets asked for endorsements, not the other way around. That Trump denied it made it more likely true, especially since his next sentence on social media was to say, oh, by the way, no one had done more for Sanders than he except maybe for her "wonderful dad."

Because of her prominence, I suspect, Sanders was given as the lead example of the old-friend resistance. And The Times sourced her role with this sentence: "On a call weeks ago, Mr. Trump asked Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, his former White House press secretary, to endorse him, and she replied that she would not yet do so, according to two people briefed on the discussion, who asked not to be named discussing the private call."

I trust that The Times, a great newspaper, indeed had two sources saying that. What I've never trusted about that kind of formulation on sourcing was that the first source was telling it right and that the second source, in saying he'd also heard that, wasn't someone who'd heard it from the first source.

It's best amid such ambiguity and ambivalence to stick to what we know, which is:

First, Trump is properly weaker than before, thus needy for endorsements, and the kind of personality to deny something he did if the revelation of that thing made him look weak

Second, he has a real hang-up on loyalty ... to him from others.

Third, it is a testament to Sanders' national profile that The Times would showcase Trump's reported overture to her.

Fourth, absent her own account of whether this conversation took place and, if so, by what context, we can assume that it is Sanders' form on such things to read the polls and focus-group reports and maybe even some early primary returns before exercising her first loyalty, which is to smart numbers-driven messaging in service to herself.

If Trump could lock this thing down early, we'd see some Sanders loyalty to him.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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