Sarah Huckabee Sanders took over as White House press secretary late July, 2017 in a whirlwind day which saw Anthony Scaramucci appointed as Communications Director in the morning and then-secretary Sean Spicer tendering his resignation that same afternoon; and today she may have finally hit the end of the road. In less than ten months Huckabee Sanders has gone from being one of the more amusing carny acts in the Trump circus to being the symbol of just how false and unaccountable this administration is, a veritable icon of duplicity. Many think that Huckabee Sanders has run her race and it’s time for her to move on. Politico:
“Circle May 3 on your calendar, because this is the day that we will look back on, in this briefing, where Sarah Sanders made it so painfully clear that she has lost credibility with the American people, with the reporters in that room,” CNN political director David Chalian said on air, just after the briefing ended.
Today was not necessarily different from any other day, and that’s precisely the point. Wednesday night Rudy Giuliani blew the top off of Sean Hannity’s show on Fox when he admitted that Trump had in fact paid Michael Cohen the hush money for Stormy Daniels and Huckabee Sanders went to her famous fall back line, “We give the very best information that we have at the time,” a phrase that has become her signature mantra just as “no collusion” has become Trump’s. Sanders tacitly admitted at today’s press briefing that she has no more of an inside track than anybody else and moreover, that she gets her information from the same place as everybody else, Fox News. Politico Magazine:
Like much else in the Trump era, the Sarah Huckabee Sanders show is unlike anything Washington has ever seen.
“I don’t really recognize the job anymore,” says Jay Carney, who served as press secretary under President Barack Obama.
“It feels totally different to me,” says Ari Fleischer, who held the post under President George W. Bush.
Most press secretaries have served as hype men for their bosses, arguing a case that, as one former press secretary put it, ideally builds from briefing to briefing, week to week, and year to year. That is not what Sanders does. This administration doesn’t build cases over time; it just tries to survive the day. Amid a constant drumbeat of surprise and scandal, she is there to beat back the press and squelch its enthusiasm.
…Sanders possesses a unique talent that, heretofore, has not quite been considered a talent: She can deaden a room. You almost have to be in the White House briefing room, a claustrophobic space packed tight with reporters and photographers, to appreciate her art. When the bright lights are on and the cameras are snapping and everyone is yelling, “Sarah! Sarah!” with their hands in the air, a palpable electricity flows through it. The moment Sanders unleashes her trademark monotone, the energy drains.
However effective her Stepford-press secretary ways have been, today was different somehow, the lies seemed more blatant and unforgivable than usual and naturally, it was a battle with Jim Acosta that brought it to a head. CNN’s Chris Cillezza recounted the scene in his newsletter today.
Acosta: “Why can’t you just answer yes or no whether you were in the dark. I think it’s a fairly simple question whether you just didn’t have the information at the time.”
Sanders: “I think it’s a fairly simple answer that I’ve given you several times now. I gave you the best information that I had and I’m gonna continue to do my best to do that every single day.”
In this instance, “the best information I had” is a euphemism for “the President of the United States didn’t tell me the whole truth and then I went out and repeated it.”
To the extent Sanders retained credibility among the White House press corps, she lost it with that answer. Admitting that you misled the press because the President misled you is tantamount to taking your credibility, pouring gasoline on it and then setting it on fire.
The Point: A boss who would not only mislead you, but also do so knowing full well you would then put your credibility on the line publicly to defend that misinformation, is a boss no one should be willing to work for. That includes Sarah Sanders.
Now onto a larger point: Can Trump in fact dispense with Huckabee Sanders or is he stuck with her, much as Rupert Murdoch is stuck with Sean Hannity, i.e., the bench of “talent” just isn’t that deep? Not for what Trump needs, in any event.
Trump is, of course, obsessed with television, and he manages no part of the government as obsessively as he manages his own image on the screen. The anxious, combative performances of his first press secretary, Sean Spicer, tended to raise Trump’s own anxiety levels. But Sanders is different, and she matters right now more than you might think a press secretary could. The way several current and former officials put it: Sanders keeps the president from flipping out every day.
“It’s crucial,” one former administration official says. “Vitally important,” another former official says, adding, “I don’t think she’s replaceable. I don’t think there’s another one out there like her.”
Imagine the ad: HELP WANTED — “Pathological liar whose hallmark is sincerity. Must be able to project an image of sweetness and loyalty to employer while undermining and attacking institutions of government, notably law enforcement and the free press. Ability to disparage members of Congress a plus.”
A White House intern version of Norman Bates, maybe?