Being a spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s administration is “the most hazardous job in Washington,” say some insiders as rumors spread of an impending White House staff shakeup.
The New York Times reported Saturday night that after what has been a brutal week for the White House communications office, neither Press Secretary Sean Spicer nor Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders are looking very secure in their jobs. Given Pres. Trump’s tendency to contradict his press team’s statements and leave surrogates hanging out to dry, it may be difficult to recruit replacements.
“Mr. Trump, obsessed with the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and increasingly frustrated by the hyper-scrutiny of the Washington press corps, is more in need of effective spokesmen than ever, and aides say he is considering a broad shake-up of his team,” wrote Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman.
The trouble is that Trump has a “career-long habit of viewing his public protectors as somewhat disposable.”
The article cited Trump’s run-ins with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and longtime Trump confidant and ally ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) as well as this week’s systematic undercutting of Spicer and Huckabee Sanders.
“After the ‘Access Hollywood’ scandal, Mr. Trump raged at Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, for going on TV to defend him, arguing that he wanted to attack Hillary Clinton, not play defense. Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign manager until he fired him, repeatedly groused to friends that he was forced to absorb all of the criticism for the campaign’s practice of confining reporters at rallies in small pens. Mr. Trump, he told two people close to him, had ordered him to do it — but placed the blame on Mr. Lewandowski when reporters complained about it,” the Times said.
“Trump is putting a lot on the backs of his spokespeople, while simultaneously cutting their legs out from underneath them,” said Alex Conant — a GOP strategist and a former adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “There is nothing more discouraging or embarrassing for a spokesman than to have your boss contradict you. In political communications, you’re only as good as your credibility.”
Trump’s spokespeople, including Vice Pres. Mike Pence all dutifully repeated their talking points for days after Comey was fired, only to have the president embarrass them in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in which Trump took full credit for the firing and openly admitted that it was about the Russia investigation.
“The most hazardous duty in Washington these days is that of Trump surrogate because the president constantly undercuts the statements of his own people,” said former senior adviser to Pres. Barack Obama David Axelrod. “You wind up looking like a liar or a fool, neither of which is particularly attractive.”
The Times said, “Few of Mr. Trump’s eruptions have had such a destructive effect on his administration or left such deep resentments among his scarred staff, according to Trump aides and surrogates. And the blowback from the Comey decision and the way it was handled have accelerated the discussions about possible changes in the White House.”
Meanwhile, Trump has grown “increasingly isolated and agitated,” since the Comey firing, say staffers, and the White House has an overall “dejected” air.
“In private,” said the Times, Trump is “still raging over what he viewed as Mr. Comey’s ‘witch hunt’ against him — and blaming the bipartisan condemnation of his action on the failures of his embattled and overworked communications team.”
The article said that the president is increasingly dissatisfied with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and his ally Spicer, both of whom came to the Trump administration from the Republican National Committee (RNC). Communications Director Michael Dubke is said to the in the crosshairs, as well.
Trump has been openly critical of Spicer to his inner circle and is reportedly considering bringing in TV producers from Fox News to make White House briefings into more razzle-dazzle affairs in keeping with the president’s previous job as a reality TV game show host. Furthermore, said the Times, Spicer has “failed to use the self-protective tools that savvier Trump aides have adopted.”
“Campaign aides learned not to lean too much on his accounts of events, steering away from unequivocal public pronouncements unless they could point to his words,” said Thrush and Haberman.
“Mr. Trump’s four-decade career in real estate, casinos and entertainment has given him a sense, associates say, that a tacit agreement exists between him and the people who work for him: In exchange for the wealth, fame and power he conveys to them, they agree to absorb incoming fire directed at him,” they wrote.
“With Mr. Trump, it’s pretty simple: Once he makes up his mind on something, that’s it,” said former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg. “You either work for him” or quit.