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.


Lloyd Green

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'I don't think he misses the White House': Sean Spicer enjoys his post-Trump period
Launching a book and his life outside the White House, the former spokesman stokes strong feelings

David Smith in Washington

29, Jul, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Sean Spicer refuses to deny that Trump is taping White House visitors
Spokesman parries questions on tweeted threat to ex-FBI director that raised Watergate echoes, as Democrats demand tapes be given to Congress – if they exist

Ben Jacobs in Washington

12, May, 2017 @7:30 PM

Article image
‘I saw you on Sean Spicer’: Trump press briefings become hottest show in town
The White House press secretary is aggressive, antagonistic and flustered. And, in the spotlight of live TV, he can appear to be channeling his pugnacious master

David Smith and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington

02, Apr, 2017 @1:45 PM

Article image
Sean Spicer resigns as Trump press secretary after six months
The controversial spokesman was known for testy exchanges with reporters amid tumultuous tenure as administration’s public face

Sabrina Siddiqui and Ben Jacobs Washington

21, Jul, 2017 @4:07 PM

Article image
‘Vanguard of opposition’: SNL adds Spicer to satire’s resurgence under Trump
Even in America’s proud history of pricking the egos of the mighty, Melissa McCarthy’s brutal impression of the White House press secretary stands out

David Smith in Washington

11, Feb, 2017 @6:00 PM

Article image
Sean Spicer: White House is no longer taking questions on Trump and Russia
Press secretary says all questions about investigation will be referred to Trump’s lawyer, as fired FBI director James Comey reported to testify soon

David Smith in Washington

01, Jun, 2017 @6:31 AM

Article image
Donald Trump unaware Michael Flynn was a 'foreign agent', Sean Spicer says
Former national security adviser retroactively disclosed that he lobbied for firm linked to Turkish government while working as Trump’s campaign adviser

Amber Jamieson in New York

10, Mar, 2017 @8:29 AM

Article image
Sean Spicer muddles answer when pressed on Trump and Russia investigation
Press secretary first said ‘we need to find out’ if Trump is the subject of an investigation, then subsequently countered there is ‘no reason’ to believe he is

David Smith in Washington

09, Mar, 2017 @2:15 PM

Article image
Sean Spicer defends inauguration claim: 'Sometimes we can disagree with facts'
Trump’s press secretary said he intends to be honest with the American people as he rehashed false statement on crowd size during first White House briefing

David Smith in Washington

23, Jan, 2017 @10:44 PM

Article image
RNC communications head Sean Spicer to become White House press secretary
The president-elect, known for his adversarial relationship with the media, also selected members of his campaign team to top communications posts

Staff and agencies

22, Dec, 2016 @8:31 PM