President Trump’s White House has a new communications manager, but the playbook he’s bringing with him on social media looks to be largely borrowed from an early iteration of Trump’s presidential campaign.
Hedge-fund multi-millionaire Anthony Scaramucci, a New Yorker notable for bespoke suits, perfect hair and a love for television cameras, was brought in to shake up a communications staff that has faced a brutally difficult first six months in the White House. Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who announced his resignation on the day that Scaramucci was hired, was repeatedly sent out in front of the cameras to defend false statements by the president. When Trump tired of Spicer, the White House began sending out his assistant, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Eventually, the White House began holding few if any on-camera press briefings.
To outside observers, at least, the biggest problem the White House communications staff was always Trump himself. The president’s undisciplined use of social media, his tendency to make off-message remarks in public settings and his willingness to undermine his own staff, cabinet and appointees to deflect criticism from himself all made the job of the White House communications staff ridiculously difficult.
For Trump supporters who continue to believe that this presidency can be extricated from the chaos currently consuming it, the appointment of Scaramucci came with the hope that the White House comms shop would be getting the backing of a man who the president sees as, if not his equal, at least someone he can relate to.
Both moved in the same financial circles in New York City, and both claim to be self-made millionaires, though Scaramucci’s claim is the more believable, given that unlike Trump he was not born into a wealthy family. Both love being on television and employ a hard-hitting, always-on-offense style when dealing with critics and detractors.
The hope was that unlike lifelong political operatives Spicer and Sanders, Scaramucci might be able to get Trump to dial back his own outreach to the public and the media, thus allowing his comms team to present a more consistent, nuanced message.
But right out of the gate, Scaramucci has made it clear that what he’s promising is less of an evolution of Trump’s media strategy than a reversion to an earlier form: The “Let Trump Be Trump” philosophy embraced by the president’s former campaign director, Corey Lewandowski.
Scaramucci appeared on several of the regular Sunday morning talk shows, just days after the announcement of his hiring, and made it clear that he has no interest in reining in the president’s use of social media or his stream-of-consciousness interviews with selected news media.
In fact, in between multiple expressions of his personal “love” for the president, he said he welcomes it.
“He’s one of the most effective communicators that’s ever been born and we’re going to make sure we get that message out directly to the American people,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I want the president to be the president and I want him to express the full nature of his personality,” he continued.
Even if the president is using his bully pulpit not to press for policy priorities, but rather to impugn the motivations of his critics or to attack the special counsel appointed to investigate his campaign’s alleged ties to Russian intelligence agencies?
“Let’s let the president be the president,” Scaramucci repeated. “My point is if he wants to talk about things like that I’m not going to want to stop him or even be able to stop him. I want to be there to help aid and abet his agenda.”
Further, Scaramucci said that if members of Trump’s team, including the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump told The New York Times he regrets hiring, don’t like being criticized in public, they need to toughen up
He compared the president to a tough football coach, saying, “That’s the president. He’s 71 years old. We’re not going to change him.”
He added, “He’s our guy, so learn how to work with and operate with him.”
On CBS’s “Face the Nation, Scaramucci warned that, “if people are very very thin-skinned I think it’s going to be super-tough to work for this president.”
Asked whether or not things like attacking the integrity of Special Counsel Bob Mueller were helpful or harmful to the administration’s cause, he said, “You know the truth of the matter is that is the president. That is the crystal essence of the president. Some of you guys in the media think it’s not helpful, but if he thinks it’s helpful to him, let him do it.”
He said, “It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s helpful or not.”
Across all of his appearances, Scaramucci appeared to be performing mostly for an audience of one, repeatedly praising the president and insisting that the majority of problems with the administration were the fault of people leaking information to the press — people he called “un-American.”
He described a culture of leaks in the White House, which he appeared to lay at the feet of members of the communications staff. And that’s one place where Scaramucci did promise swift change.
“Tomorrow I’m going to have a meeting with the communications staff and say hey, I don’t like these leaks so we’re going to stop the leaks and if we don’t stop the leaks I’m going to stop you,” he said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
On CBS he was even more specific. He said that he would be instructing the comms team to have a meeting among themselves, and to decide as a group whether or not leaks to the media were going to continue.
His message: “If you’re going to keep leaking, I’m going to fire everybody.”