The Meaning of the Mooch

Anthony Scaramucci is a schmoozer, a chameleon, and quite possibly a man with no soul. He’s Trump’s most dangerous enabler yet.

Anthony Scaramucci during the daily White House press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on July 21.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There are a lot of Mooches. There’s the funny Mooch, the self-effacing Mooch, the schmoozy Mooch, the boastful Mooch, the name-dropping Mooch, the suck-up Mooch, and, yes, the utterly unhinged Mooch. Most of them are visible in just about any TV interview he does, although the angry Mooch is normally off the record. Underneath it all is one man: the chameleon Mooch, the guy who will never think twice about changing his spots if doing so gives him any kind of tactical advantage.

Right now Anthony Scaramucci—failed investment banker, newly minted man of the people, indefatigable self-promoter—is trying to pull off the most high-risk trade of his career, and he’s doing it by channeling Donald J. Trump to the best of his abilities. He has already effectively dispatched Sean Spicer; next up, if all goes according to plan, will be Reince Priebus, followed sooner or later by Steve Bannon. He’ll need friends, though, most immediately at Treasury, because right now he isn’t actually the White House communications director. In order to officially get that job, he needs to disentangle himself from his former businesses in a manner acceptable to the Treasury Department.

Once Treasury approval comes through, the Mooch will finally get the fuck-you money he’s wanted all his life—and, what’s more, he can put it all into Treasury bills and won’t need to pay any taxes on it until it’s liquidated. (All of this thanks to rules benefitting executive-branch appointees who need to sell assets to clear ethics rules.) He will also be effectively the second most powerful man in America, gleefully tramping all over norms and institutions in a way that even Bannon has until now failed to achieve. That’s because Bannon has his own agenda. The Mooch, by contrast, is perfectly happy being a thug for hire, doing whatever bidding the president asks of him and doing it with maximum relish.

The Mooch, it’s important to understand, comes as close as humanly possible to being a man without a soul. His entire career has been based on finding people who are richer, more powerful, or otherwise more successful than himself and trying to be more like them.

In its early years, that strategy meant a pretty standard move from Harvard Law School to Goldman Sachs; later on, after he discovered a taste for the television lights, it meant playing a hedge-fund manager on TV. For a while, the Mooch decided that the pinnacle of capitalism was the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, where he would rent out the famous Piano Bar every year and pour the assembled plutocrats the most expensive wine he could find. That was the period when he would happily tweet out Davos orthodoxy in a vain attempt to get taken seriously as some kind of public intellectual. (Davos, almost uniquely, is the kind of place where drivel like “Walls don’t work. Never have never will” is considered profound.)

At some point, the Mooch discovered that the best way to curry favor with the rich and powerful was simply to throw a ludicrously expensive party in Las Vegas every year, which he called SALT (SkyBridge Alternatives). By giving Wall Street folks an excuse to drink too much and to do everything else that rich guys get up to in Las Vegas, the Mooch also put himself in a position to be able to pay enormous appearance fees to politicians including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair. Both at Davos and at SALT, he saw that it was the politicians, not the billionaires, who were the real center of attention. Thus did he enter presidential politics, first with Mitt Romney, then with Scott Walker, then with Jeb Bush, and finally with Donald Trump.

In each case, the Mooch took on the mien of his new patron—demonstrating, if nothing else, his remarkable shape-shifting skills. Around Trump, he became a no-bullshit bruiser, an aide with no agenda beyond loyalty and no ambition beyond maximizing his Oval Office face time. He also removed whatever trace of the shame gene he might have had remaining, proving himself willing time and again to proclaim anything that Trump wanted him to say, no matter how ludicrous or slanderous or self-incriminating it was. That has won him the all-important trust of the president, at least for the time being.

The problem is that for all his skills at managing up, the Mooch has very few skills as a politician or as a communications chief. For instance: He’s very good at phoning up journalists and shouting at them, as I (and many of my former bosses) can personally attest. (After I published this story, for instance, the Mooch screamed at just about everybody he knew at Thomson Reuters, up to and including the CEO, multiple times.) And tactical fits of sweariness have been a central part of Washington politics forever: Just ask Rahm Emanuel. But Rahm always had a purpose to his swearing, and he always made sure it was off the record. The Mooch, by contrast, does really stupid things, like trying to bully the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza into giving up his sources—a tactic that has never worked on any journalist ever. And then does even more stupid things like throwing Bannon under the bus, in extremely vivid Anglo-Saxon, without first going off the record.

Or, to put it another way, the Mooch has already proved himself to be significantly less competent than Selina Meyer, and he hasn’t even officially started his new job yet. If and when he does get that job, and/or the chief of staff job he clearly covets, we will find ourselves looking back on the days of Priebus and Spicer as the calm, orderly time before everything went really bad. Because if there’s one thing worse than Trump in the presidency, it’s the Mooch standing by his side, applauding all his worst instincts and wallowing in the inevitable chaos like some kind of idiotically sycophantic movie henchman. It has only taken a couple of days for America to learn what kind of person the Mooch really is. The really terrifying prospect is that we’ll be reminded of that fact, on a weekly basis, for months or even years to come.