The Briefing review: Sean Spicer rides Trump unicorn to the rainbow's end

The former press secretary’s memoir is revealing about the Trump White House – and his own extreme loyalty

Sean Spicer served as White House press secretary for only 182 days. On day one, Spicer spun the turnout at Donald Trump’s inauguration into a public relations disaster. Then he morphed into a Saturday Night Live caricature. As Spicer writes: “I had made a bad first impression, and looking back, that was the beginning of the end.”

His memoir is a highly readable and often informative effort to defend Trump, restore some of the author’s own lost luster, and settle a few scores. At times, it rings like an audition for a talkshow. At others, it sounds like a family member seeking to whitewash an abusive relationship. Spicer goes so far as to call Trump “a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow”.

Regardless, it is an essential narrative by a non-family member who once possessed Oval Office walk-in privileges.

Inexplicably, Spicer does his best to undercut his own and his ex-boss’s credibility. When it comes to Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, Spicer’s story appears to have evolved.

For three consecutive pages, The Briefing: Politics, the Press and the President graphically details how Manafort beat back the efforts of Never Trump Republicans to steal the presidential nomination. Spicer gushes: “How Manafort and company did this was a scene out of 1950s politics – alternating between carrot and stick and sometimes bat.”

Time flies. In March 2017, Spicer was spinning a whole other yarn. Back then, at the White House podium, he was channeling the president, telling the press there was nothing to see: “Obviously there’s been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

Manafort now sits in prison, having violated the conditions of his bail, awaiting trial on money laundering and tax evasion charges.

‘I don’t talk so good’: Melissa McCarthy impersonates Sean Spicer on SNL

Fittingly, The Briefing begins with the run-up to Spicer’s resignation and the flameout of Anthony Scaramucci, AKA the Mooch. Spicer portrays a president besieged by bad press who viewed Scaramucci as the answer to his prayers. Spicer quotes Trump: “Sean, we’re getting killed in the media … We need to find a role for Anthony. We need to get him involved.”

Spicer saw the writing on the wall. Quickly. He updated a resignation letter he had drafted two months earlier. Spicer understood that his resignation was solely a question of “when”, not “if”. He was initially told by Trump that he was “an important part of this team”. Then, the president accepted his resignation.

In a case of poetic justice, Spicer managed to outlast the Mooch, who was pushed out a mere 10 days after he started. One month later, Spicer was officially gone.

Freed of his burden, Spicer acknowledges what others saw early on: a president prone to unmeasured outbursts and self-injurious tweet storms, a White House marked by disarray. Backstabbing and leaks were the coin of the realm. In fact, Spicer tells of staffers who would bring “burner phones” to work, to lessen the chances of being caught leaking. Unfortunately, he does not attempt to grapple with how and why this ethos took root.

Spicer tries to attribute some of the tumult to inexperience and inadequate staffing. That works, to a point. Recalling the initial rollout of the travel ban, Spicer admits the administration failed to anticipate legal pitfalls. But he also couches such setbacks as failures to “anticipate all the legal traps liberal, activist judges invoked”.

According to Spicer, the White House was “not yet fully staffed and did not have the time to do that sort of analysis or the experienced hands that might have helped guide us to a smooth implementation of complex policies like this”. Unstated is the fact that experienced and competent hands shunned the administration, even those to be found among the president’s supporters.

George Conway, an ace litigator and husband of senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway, refused to serve in Trump’s Department of Justice after word emerged that he would be heading up the civil division. Just the other day, Conway remarked that he gives his wife a “harder time” about working for Trump than she receives from strangers. The administration recently turned to a job fair in the hope of luring would-be appointees to work amid a sea of staff departures.

Commenting on Trump’s hyper-personalized Twitter attacks on Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough of MSNBC, Spicer concedes that Trump went too far. While lauding the president’s mastery of the medium as a way to rally his base, he writes: “Double-edged sword is an apt cliche for Donald Trump and Twitter. Sometimes he’s cutting up the opposition and sometimes he’s cutting up his own best messages.”

As to be expected, Spicer can be selective about scandals past. He refers to a conversation with Tom Price, Trump’s first health secretary, but omits any of the facts surrounding Price’s forced resignation, which stemmed from the misuse of more than $1m in taxpayer funds.

Likewise, Spicer characterizes Mark Foley, a one-time employer, as “good to staff and fun to be around” – but neglects to mention that Foley resigned from Congress in 2006 after sending explicit messages to underage teenage boys.

A decade later, Foley appeared behind Trump at a rally. As Trump framed things: “When you get those seats, you sort of know the campaign. You sort of know the campaign.”

Spicer finds time to attack adversaries inside and outside the press. He calls CNN’s Jim Acosta a “carnival barker” and takes issue with the treatment he received from Jonathan Karl of ABC. Most of all, Spicer goes at Scaramucci for his self-centeredness, coarseness and tropism toward self-aggrandizement.

It is almost as though he is talking about Trump. He isn’t.

Contributor

Lloyd Green

The GuardianTramp

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