Recent biased media reports perpetuated an image of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer hiding behind bushes trying to avoid reporters as news about the firing of FBI Director James Comey broke.
While it may have been another instance of “fake news,” it appears that Spicer was kept in the dark to some degree. And that may be a harbinger of his future as the White House frontman.
Spicer, who grew up in Rhode Island, has traversed a rocky relationship with members of the White House press corps. The gatherings have reflected the contentious and partisan vitriol of Washington, D.C., at large.
Unlike many past press secretaries, Spicer has emerged as a household name due to the popular and hyperbolic “Saturday Night Live” portrayals by Melissa McCarthy. Comically played as a hothead ready to explode over single word, the briefings available on YouTube are notably hostile at times. Many political pundits have also cited the White House communications team as fumbling policy rollouts.
Is Huckabee-Sanders Just a Pinch Hitter?
While Spicer was called away to fulfill his U.S. Navy reserve duties, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders got the nod to manage daily briefings and other obligations. The daughter of former GOP Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, she got off to a contentious start during an interview during MSNBC’s Morning Joe, but surfaced as a natural media manager during White House briefings right out of the gate.
The Comey firing seemed like a preordained debacle with Spicer away and the No. 2 having to handle an imminent media firestorm. However, Huckabee-Sanders’ handling of the high drama went rather smoothly. She staked out the White House’s position, reasoning and timeline without wavering. She didn’t hesitate to shutdown reporters’ attempt to create on-site debate with a simple “no.”
Interestingly, her criticism of “unreliable” media sources seemed to fly without the Spicer-like verbal combat. But what has spurred mass speculation that Spicer may be headed to the minor leagues is that he didn’t lead another recent press briefing.
Conspiracy Theory vs. Savvy Media Relations
It came as a surprise that Huckabee-Sanders, not Spicer, handled the post-Comey briefing on Wednesday, April 10. Conspiracy theorists immediately began rolling out notions that Spicer’s tenure was over and the briefing was a Huckabee-Sanders big league audition. After all, how could he be kept out of such a crucial political moment. That may be the case given her early success. But this could also be an excellent strategic move by the White House.
The press has hounded Spicer about the president’s confidence in Comey’s ability to lead the FBI. On numerous occasions, Spicer was required to affirm that confidence. Reporters raised that very point with Huckabee-Sanders. If Spicer took the reins the day after the firing, his prior affirmations would become a significant part of the questioning and news cycle.
Sending in Spicer was a lose-lose situation for the White House. It stands to reason that this step could just as easily be excellent planning on the part of a White House strategist such as Steve Bannon.
The contrast between the two media professionals is striking. Spicer takes the podium with a smile and appearance of a Naval officer. There isn’t a hair out of place and the suit is always immaculate. That smile leaves quickly as reporters bait him into unreasonable arguments and tense back-and-forths. It gets very personal and ugly.
The Deputy Press Secretary comes off like a neighbor or the mom next door. She projects as casual comfort in attire and demeanor, making a shout out to her daughter, Scarlett, when opening the Comey firing briefing.
It may be disarming to a press corps that has grown accustomed to hostility. But, she laughs at the absurdity and asserts herself in a firm, direct manor. Her upbringing as the daughter of a sometimes-controversial Republican father may have provided her with the ability to put politics in context. Firing an FBI director is a significant event, but it isn’t WWIII.
Would Trump Make The Change?
The big question for White House outsiders is understanding how the president makes decisions. Some look at his businessman background and willingness to watch underlings slug it out for supremacy. That was the thinking about Jared Kushner and Bannon. But at some point, Trump called for a reckoning. Fences were mended and no one got canned. That points to the president’s reciprocating loyalty.
On the other hand, in the big leagues, the best player gets the starting nod and we’ve seen Huckabee-Sanders outperform her boss. The smart money may be on an altered role for Spicer down the road with Huckabee-Sanders filling the top spot. At the end of the day, the president favors winners.
~ Liberty Planet