Nothing’s official yet, but it seems the president will finally sideline White House press secretary Sean Spicer, the stormy spokesperson who often endured ridicule for blurring the lines between truth, fiction, and wishful thinking.
In typical fashion, the news so far is based on leaks. The White House has not made an announcement, but Politico and Bloomberg each reported yesterday that Trump is searching for candidates to replace Spicer at the podium, according to two unnamed administration sources. Spicer himself is expected to stay on, perhaps in a more senior — but less visible — position.
For weeks now, the president has reportedly expressed disappointment in his communications team, particularly for how it handled his firing of FBI Director James Comey, which resulted in more backlash than was expected. Communications director Mike Dubke stepped down in May, and many rumored that Spicer would be next, as soon as the White House found a replacement.
In the past Trump has praised Spicer’s combative daily press briefings, which have become a spectacle of daytime television. According to the Washington Post, Trump remarked in March, “I’m not firing Sean Spicer. That guy gets great ratings. Everyone tunes in."
But in recent weeks, particularly as the Russia scandal heated up, Spicer has played a diminished role in public. The press briefings have been shorter, and have more frequently taken place off-camera. Yesterday, outlets were barred from even broadcasting the audio.
These tactics signal that the White House is anxious to take attention away from the briefings, which have turned into a ritual of resistance and stonewalling. Reporters ask tough questions, and Spicer deflects, or tells an outright lie. These daily encounters are no longer informative, and as theater, are no longer flattering for the administration.
As I wrote a few weeks ago:
In a different era, the White House press briefings were low-key and rarely televised live. They were a chance for the press secretary to deliver updates, clear up day-to-day misconceptions, and to take the temperature of the nation’s top reporters. Under the Trump administration, the briefings have become belligerent, blustery, and increasingly divorced from reality.
Spicer has resisted answering even simple questions. Asked repeatedly, on different days, whether the president believes in climate change, Spicer responded with the same excuse: “I have not had the opportunity to specifically talk to the president about that.”
Trump himself has questioned the value of the press briefings. “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” he said on Twitter in May. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”
Meanwhile, reporters are getting their real facts from others inside the White House. This is perhaps the leakiest administration ever, with newspapers regularly publishing scoops involving dozens of anonymous White House officials. Trump has complained about the press using unnamed sources, but the problem is internal. That administration officials are so eager to leak to the press speaks to an unprecedented level of mismanagement and mistrust in the White House.
Case in point: As of Tuesday morning, there is still no official word about Spicer’s status, or the candidates lined up to replace him as press secretary. But the gossip is already out.