For those possessed of enough confidence and a shriveled conscience, the job of being a political spokesperson is not very difficult. You dissemble, you deflect, you dodge, and you move on safe in the knowledge that the mainstream press will never hold you fully accountable for what you’ve said—there are no lies in politics, only “misstatements” and “falsehoods”—and that the public is not paying terribly close attention. You needn’t seem sincere or even particularly alive in front of the cameras—spokespeople are among the political operatives most threatened by advances in automation. Until IBM’s Watson learns how to evade two-part questions, Clinton campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon might be considered the ideal—a model of true efficiency in the role. Eyes ahead, even tone, a mind emptied of all but a half-dozen bullet points, a smile just the right size, no energy lost or wasted— this is what you want.
Today, White House press secretary Sean Spicer compared Adolf Hitler favorably to Bashar al-Assad. “You had someone who is as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even use chemical weapons,” he told reporters. He later attempted to clarify his comment. “I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing, there was not in the — he brought them into the Holocaust center.”
At Holocaust Centers, more popularly known as “concentration” and “death camps,” Adolf Hitler gassed millions of people—his own and others—to death with chemicals. Sean Spicer should know this. Some have found his comments further evidence of latent anti-Semitism in the White House. They are, at the very least, further evidence of something that has been obvious for some time: Sean Spicer is inexplicably bad at his job. He lacks confidence. He gets emotional. He gets in his own way. He shoots himself in the foot. He puts the foot in his mouth to stop the bleeding. As Nancy Pelosi has said, he should be replaced.
But by whom? There are probably hundreds of quacks, hacks, and flacks amoral and competent enough for the job. The most qualified of them are naturally those who’ve already proven capable of shamelessly and successfully carrying water for Trump. Here are the top contenders.
Katrina Pierson: It was the night of October 12th. The allegations of sexual assault against Donald Trump were mounting. The latest—a woman named Jessica Leeds who said that Trump had groped her in first class on a commercial flight back in the 1980s. CNN’s Don Lemon assembled a panel. Trump campaign national spokesperson Katrina Pierson was on it. Here’s what she came up with:
We’re talking about the early 1980s, Don. Seriously? Back then you had planes—what, a DC-9, a DC-10, an MD-80, a 707 and maybe an L-1011. But she said specifically that this was to New York. This is important, so we can X out the DC-10 and the L-1011. Guess what? First-class seats have fixed armrests, so what I can tell you about her story, if she was groped on a plane, it wasn’t by Donald Trump and it certainly wasn’t in first class.
This was gibberish. It didn’t matter. She knew it didn’t matter. Her audience wasn’t the legion of fact-checkers that tore up her defense the next day. She was speaking, with attitude, for the benefit of those willing to accept any reason to exonerate Trump and for the true believers.
All others had already found him guilty. They weren’t going to be convinced by armrests, or “locker room talk”, or any other contention that sought to claim Trump treated women with respect, that around a dozen women had invented stories of assault and misbehavior, that he was innocent. But she wasn’t trying to convince them. She was performing defiance and disgust with the established narrative—this, at the end of the day, was what the Trump campaign was all about.
Sean Spicer has done his best to emulate this spirit with little success. Imagine if Pierson had been the one defending lies about the size of the Trump’s inauguration crowd back in January. Spicer looked completely shaken up by the experience. Pierson, who owns a necklace made of bullets, would have reveled in it.
Jeffrey Lord: This is a man who defended Trump in the wake of the assault allegations by blaming the liberal “sexual revolution.” He defended birtherism and insinuations that President Obama was a Muslim against charges of racism by noting that people had accused Chester Alan Arthur of being born in Canada. He defended Trump’s inability to straightforwardly denounce the Ku Klux Klan by calling it a leftist group. Lord knows Lord knows how to reach. As hapless and chaotic as this administration has been, Trump will need someone skilled at reflexively shifting blame on his behalf. Lord is one of the best at it.
Nobody: What better way to take a stand against the fake news-propagating mainstream press than to do away with press briefings all together? What are the downsides for Trump? Few watch or care about these events. Those who do aren’t likely to support Trump anyway. As a bonus, reporters would wail in disbelief against the move as an unprecedented attack on the First Amendment. Trump voters would love that.
Of course, nobody would mean that there wouldn’t be anyone around to attempt to explain Trump’s preposterous tweets about Obama spying on him, undocumented immigrants stealing the popular vote from him, or the like. If no one else is game, Kellyanne Conway would be a serviceable choice, although she’s taken a few too many hits over the past few months to be a truly solid frontrunner. At the bottom of the pack—Devin Nunes, who might soon find himself available.