As someone who has gone on cable news a lot to share pro-Trump takes that get attention for the wrong reasons, Kayleigh McEnany, formerly a spokesperson for the Trump 2020 campaign, should be a natural as President Trump’s next press secretary.
News that McEnany is to become Trump’s fourth press secretary was first reported by CNN on Tuesday. She will replace Stephanie Grisham, who finishes her nine-month stint in the role without ever having held a press briefing but with many Fox News appearances under her belt.
That didn’t happen by accident: Trump reportedly wants his press secretaries to primarily serve as cable news surrogates for him. But the timing of McEnany joining the White House has brought recent comments she’s made about the coronavirus under renewed criticism.
“We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here”
Like many other people in the orbit of the president, including Trump himself, McEnany spent much of the period between January and March downplaying the coronavirus — including as late as March 11, the same day the NBA suspended play after a player tested positive for the virus, becoming one of more than 1,200 people who had tested positive in the US at that point.
At that time, Trump was still planning to hold political rallies even though National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci had already recommended large gatherings not be held, saying during congressional testimony that “anything that has large crowds is something that would give a risk to spread.”
During an interview on Fox Business in which host Stuart Varney grilled McEnany about the wisdom of proceeding with rallies despite Fauci’s advice, McEnany suggested that the president — who once claimed windmills cause cancer — knew better than one of the nation’s top public health experts.
“The president is the best authority on this issue,” she said.
Here's Trump's new press secretary on March 11 saying that the campaign was still planning to hold rallies, even as she is repeatedly told that other campaigns are not and Fauci in effect advised against it.— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) April 7, 2020
McEnany's response: "The president is the best authority on this issue" pic.twitter.com/c6tPHAZGM1
But even more egregious in hindsight were comments McEnany made on Trish Regan’s Fox Business show on February 25. (Regan lost her show two weeks later following a rant where she dismissed the growing pandemic as a “coronavirus impeachment scam.”)
“We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here,” McEnany said, adding, “Isn’t it refreshing when contrasting [the Trump administration’s public health efforts] with the awful presidency of President Obama.”
On the same day Larry Kudlow said coronavirus was “contained” on Feb. 25th, Trump’s campaign spox made an even more bold claim.— andrew kaczynski (@KFILE) April 4, 2020
“We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here..and isn't it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama." pic.twitter.com/O0DDH3Rvkw
The clip of McEnany saying “we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here” was recently posted to Twitter by CNN editor Andrew Kaczynski. McEnany responded with a mix of deflection, Trump praise, and attacks on the press — a combination the president seems to be a big fan of.
When McEnany made those comments on February 25, the US had fewer than 20 non-cruise-ship-related coronavirus cases. Sadly, in hindsight, they stand out as egregiously inaccurate. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been infected, and more than 12,200 have died.
Trump expects his press secretaries to be blindly loyal. Getting things wrong seems to be no problem as long as it advances Trump’s interests.
When she starts at the White House, McEnany will be far from the only Trump administration official who has gone viral due to inaccurate statements about the coronavirus.
As I detailed last week, 10 million unemployment claims ago, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed the coronavirus “will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.” In late February, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the coronavirus was “contained” and urged investors to “buy the dip” just ahead of the Dow dropping precipitously. On March 6, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway indignantly told reporters at the White House that the coronavirus was being “contained.”
But McEnany surpasses all three officials in her longstanding commitment to boosting Trump’s message of the day. Her history of shilling for Trump goes all the way to 2012, when she amplified the racist conspiracy theories about then-President Obama’s birth certificate that Trump rode to political prominence.
#GuessBidensNextGaffe "we're still vigorously pursuing any and all leads on Obama's birth certificate"— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) August 15, 2012
How I Met Your Brother -- Never mind, forgot he's still in that hut in Kenya. #ObamaTVShows— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) August 30, 2012
In October 2016, McEnany also went to extreme lengths to defend Trump following the release of the Access Hollywood hot mic recording in which he can be heard bragging about groping women, arguing that Trump’s comment about how “when you’re a star, they let you do it” is actually evidence he sought consent before touching them. She’s also defended everything from Trump’s false claim about Obama founding ISIS to his refusal to divest from his business interests upon taking office.
These defenses of the president have been widely ridiculed outside the MAGA echo chamber. But as Sean Spicer taught us on the very first day of Trump’s presidency when he trumpeted blatant lies about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd size, the job of being Trump’s press secretary is all about being willing to say whatever the boss thinks is necessary to win the moment. And in that respect, McEnany has already demonstrated she’s up to the task.