You don’t have to be a particularly acerbic Donald Trump critic — or, for that matter, a particularly worried Donald Trump supporter — to think it might be a good time for the 45th president to adopt a new communications strategy. The president seems to be on the brink of a major collision with Robert Mueller and others investigating his relations with representatives of a certain vodka-consuming nation. His legislative agenda is in deep trouble. His White House is seething with internal turmoil, fracturing through poisonous leaks, and struggling to stay in control of a poorly staffed administration. Even for those who, like the president, view the media as “the enemy of the American people,” a bit of a truce, or at least the lowering of temperatures, would seem a good idea.
And with an opening in the key position of White House communications director since Michael Dubke stepped down in May, it would seem an ideal time to bring in some sober, senior, serious figure that media folk respected, if only to buy time and political capital in case one of various potential crises explodes. That was Bill Clinton’s strategy when he brought in David Gergen (a former Nixon, Ford, and Reagan staffer who had also been editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report) in 1993 after a rocky start to his administration.
Today’s move signals that Trump is not pursuing such a strategy. Instead, he is installing as communications director Anthony Scaramucci (a man universally known as “the Mooch”), whose main qualification for the post is that he’s a denizen of Trump’s circle of edgy Wall Street friends. His only relevant experience in communications is his hedge-fund company’s successful 2015 acquisition of the license to resurrect the renowned old PBS show Wall Street Week for Fox Business, with the Mooch himself appearing on camera as a host. He’s also been pretty adept at other forms of self-promotion, as his quick rise to prominence within Team Trump has demonstrated. Blocked earlier from a major White House gig as director of the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs — ostensibly because of vetting delays, but also reportedly because of a bad relationship with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus — Scaramucci has now hit the jackpot.
The pending appointment led immediately to the resignation of White House press secretary Sean Spicer, and Priebus is reportedly angry as well. We don’t know their specific grounds for opposing the appointment, but one factor could be the Mooch’s manifest lack of gravitas, as evidenced by this revealing glimpse of Scaramucci’s view of Washington provided in January by Jessica Pressler:
“Scaramucci, Exploring Government Post, Weighs Sale of SkyBridge,” he said triumphantly, reading a headline from Bloomberg off his iPhone. Then he launched into a sequence of stories about the first time he saw The Godfather (he was 8) and his uncle Orlando’s Perry Como impression, before returning to the subject of his new position.
“So I said to Vice-President Pence, who was here tonight,” he went on, “I said, ‘I’ll do whatever the hell you guys want.’ I know you probably think that’s, like, me being passive-aggressive,” he said to me, “but it’s not, it’s me being even-keeled. My best service to him is acting as a fair broker for the situation, because what happens in Washington is they will stab you right in the chest with a smile on their face. It’s like the Game of Thrones and the Hunger Games screenwriters got together with the writers of House of Cards and they made a story. And the other thing I have learned about these people in Washington, Nelson,” he said, turning to his partner, who had settled in at the bar, “is they have no money. So what happens when they have no fucking money is they fight about what seat they are in and what the title is. Fucking congressmen act like that. They are fucking jackasses.
David Gergen he’s not.
The Mooch’s elevation is, according to one report, the doings of the Trump White House’s New York faction, including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Gary Cohn, and Dina Powell. Perhaps in that world, Scaramucci would not be seen as abnormal. But in Washington, even Donald Trump’s Washington, Scaramucci is about the least reassuring figure he could have chosen.
The Trump White House’s wild ride could now get even bumpier.