Let’s take a moment to feel sorry for erstwhile White House press secretary Sean Spicer. (But just a moment.) Once a pillar of Washington’s Republican establishment, a good ol’ boy well liked by GOP insiders and the cynical Washington press corps, Spicer seemed perfect for the job he held for six years as RNC communications director. Never, during that time, was he considered a Trumpette, once telling CNN that he didn’t support Trump slandering Mexicans as rapists. “I mean, as far as painting Mexican Americans with that kind of a brush, I think that’s probably something that is not helpful to the cause,” he said last year.
Maybe, when Spicer writes his memoirs, we’ll find out if he took this job – no doubt, on recommendation of Reince Priebus, his former RNC boss and now Trump’s chief of staff – against his own better judgment. Who, after all, would want to get up in front of a press gaggle every day and try to defend Trump’s latest outrageous tweet or his erratic, often lying proclamations? But Spicer did exactly that, from day one – and that’s why we lost sympathy for him almost immediately.
Spicer broke records as a wildly spinning prevaricator, whether he was defending Trump’s lie that his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever, or denying that the Muslim ban was a Muslim ban, or trying to explain away the president’s apparent belief that anti-slavery leader Frederick Douglass is still alive, or finessing Trump’s bizarre refusal to say outright that he accepts the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was behind the 2016 hack-and-leak, or his repeated, insistent defence of Trump’s accusation that the “fake media” is the “enemy of the American people.” No wonder that the first paragraph of his eventual obituary is almost guaranteed to include a reference to Melissa McCarthy’s devastating SNL parody.
Now, Spicer has finally reached his breaking point, quitting in a huff amid the appointment of Wall Street wheeler-dealer Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director. Scaramucci, a former Goldman Sachs executive – yes, another one – and a fast-talking hedge fund mogul who founded SkyBridge Capital, is a big shit-stirrer. This is not speculation. “I am a total shit-stirrer,” he once told New York magazine. “My middle name could be Shit-stirrer, except then my initials on my shirt would be A.S.S., and I can’t have that.”
“The Mooch,” as he’s known, will now be in charge of spinning Trump’s public image as the storm clouds gather ’round the White House, thanks to relentless inquiries into the president’s affairs by several different agencies and at least three congressional committees. Whether Scaramucci’s appointment as his future boss was a bridge too far for Spicer – who reportedly “vehemently disagreed” with the pick – or whether Spicer, already on the outs, used that as an excuse to get out of there doesn’t really matter in the end.
In a sign the White House may be starting to come apart at the seams, Spicer is actually the second spokesperson in Trump’s orbit to quit this week. On Thursday, Mark Corallo, the well-respected Republican operative who’d been hired as spokesman for the president’s Russiagate defence team, also jumped ship. Corallo’s departure came as the White House veered closer and closer to all-out war with both Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of Russiagate, and Trump’s own Justice Department, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Unlike White House hardliners, Corallo actually showed some respect for Mueller – “Bob is the best. Period. If the facts merit, he’ll recommend charging. More importantly, if there’s nothing there, he won’t,” Corallo recently tweeted. Trump, meanwhile, has spent weeks toying with the idea of sparking a constitutional crisis by firing Mueller. Perhaps, like Spicer, Corallo just got tired of trying to defend the indefensible.
Trump’s family, especially daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, are at the very centre of all this instability and intrigue. According to The New York Times, Ivanka and Jared were the ones who insisted on bringing in Scaramucci, who has no relevant experience. In that sense, his appointment was a victory for the clique inside the White House often disparaged by hard-right conservatives as “the Democrats”: Ivanka, Jared and the Goldman Sachs alumni around Trump, including Gary Cohn, the White House economic czar, and Dina Powell, a National Security Council deputy. And in a sense, they are indeed Democrats, of a sort, with the Kushner real estate empire long allied to New York-area Democrats and Cohn and Powell part of a firm whose top executives are more often than not centre-left, if neoliberal, Dems. Scaramucci himself raised millions for Barack Obama in 2008, though he once publicly upbraided him before the election for “whacking Wall Street like a piñata,” and eventually soured on him.
Since then, Scaramucci has been a reliable Republican, backing Romney in 2012 and Jeb Bush and Scott Walker in 2016 before signing on, big league, as a Trump fundraiser. He’ll soon find out that it’s one thing to ask the 1 percent for some of their cash to elect the latest GOP standard-bearer, and something else entirely to fast-talk the media, Congress and the public in the face of an avalanche of investigations, hearings, leaks and new revelations.
Meanwhile, Sean Spicer will be able to watch it all unfold on television, perhaps from a beach with a mojito in hand, thinking, “There, but for the grace of God, spin I.”