clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The leaks about why Sean Spicer resigned are absurd — and revealing

They say a lot about Donald Trump’s White House.

Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Sean Spicer’s resignation as White House press secretary may have been long in the making. But the reports coming out about what finally pushed him to quit have turned out to be remarkably revealing about the administration and the president himself.

The backstory appears to be that Trump wanted to give someone he likes and enjoys watching on television a prominent-sounding job — even though he doesn’t have any experience with the job’s actual duties and won’t even be expected to carry many of them out.

That someone is Anthony Scaramucci, the former hedge fund financier who has no experience working in press or PR, but was named White House communications director on Friday. Spicer strongly argued against giving Scaramucci that job and decided to resign when Trump gave it to him anyway, according to multiple new reports.

To understand the backstory here, you have to understand the traditional role of a politician’s communications director. Unlike the press secretary, who is a public spokesperson and generally tasked with responding to urgent day-to-day queries, the communications director is supposed to focus on the bigger picture and the longer term. He or she is supposed to try and shape the larger narrative of what the administration is doing, and organize what’s essentially a PR campaign to that effect.

In short: It’s a strategic behind-the-scenes messaging job. It’s not about going on TV.

And yet Scaramucci’s qualifications are, essentially, that Trump likes him and likes how he performs on TV (which he is, to be fair, good at).

“Trump simply wants a high level White House surrogate on television,” a source close to the White House press operation told Politico’s Tara Palmeri, Ben White, and Josh Dawsey. (Also, Trump is happy that Scaramucci forced CNN to retract a story about him recently.)

Naturally, then, since Scaramucci has no relevant experience for the job he’s being hired for, there are reports that he’s not ... actually going to do that job.

A Republican close to the White House told the Washington Examiner’s Sarah Westwood and Al Weaver that the new post was essentially just a title and that Scaramucci “would not be fulfilling that responsibility because he doesn't know how.”

But he may be hired to ... do another job, eventually? The Politico team reports that “Two sources with direct knowledge of the situation said that Scaramucci is being primed to eventually take on the position of chief of staff.” And Scaramucci said at Friday’s press briefing that he would be reporting directly to Trump, and not to current chief of staff Reince Priebus (who he’s reportedly clashed with).

And also, he was supposedly going to be Spicer’s boss? The New York Times’s Glenn Thrush reports that “Mr. Spicer flatly rejected the president’s offer of a position subordinate to Mr. Scaramucci, according to two administration officials familiar with the exchange.”

With all that in mind, you can see why Spicer got fed up.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.