Sean Spicer, Tokyo-on-the-Potomac’s First Casualty

Andrew Ricci, Vice President, LEVICK

In many ways, Sean Spicer was always an outsider in the Trump organization, even though he’s been one of the most popular and well known figures within it. He’s been lampooned by Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live and his on-camera press briefings – back in the old days when they were a regular occurrence – quickly became 2017’s must-see political TV. Where Press Secretaries of the past were bit players in the Washington drama, largely unrecognizable except to the junkies and wannabe pundits, Spicer had a nationwide name recognition of 60 percent, which, to say the least, is pretty impressive.

Throughout all of this – the gum-chomping caricatures and the sharp critiques by the President and the Press alike, Spicer remained a steady presence, a loyalist’s loyalist, and, as Mark Leibovich noted in his July 11 New York Times Magazine article, “a crossover player, someone who comfortably inhabited the old Tokyo-on-the-Potomac before Godzilla was elected and put him to work.” It’s possible that he wasn’t always comfortable as Godzilla’s mouthpiece, but if so, he never showed it.

In that old Tokyo, Spicer was a key figure in the establishment, well-known, mostly liked, and generally respected for his role as a strategist. A staple and loyal soldier at the Republican National Committee, he played a major role in rebuilding the party’s media apparatus after the Obama wave in 2008 and again in 2012. It was amazing how quickly the Trumpists adopted him as one of their own, given his position as a power player in the swamp they so loathed.

When he started at the White House, he was supposed to be a stabilizing force like his old boss, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus – another allegedly embattled member of Team Trump. The two were supposed to bring legitimate experience in helping the White House navigate Washington’s power centers and run like a real Presidency. Where the campaign, though successful, was sometimes amateurish, there was real governing to be done and a long list of conservative priorities to achieve. Both of these things proved to be Sisyphean, to say the least.

Sean Spicer, Tokyo-on-the-Potomac’s First Casualty

Sean Spicer (Photo Source: Twitter)

I suppose the question now, dear readers, is what does it all mean and where do we go from here?

The main takeaways from the TV chyrons and the headlines are that this latest staff shakeup is the mark of a White House in chaos. That has been true, and, if we’re betting dollars to donuts, it’s likely to continue that way.

At the end of the day, the government is a massive bureaucracy that one person cannot manage alone – especially one with no governing experience. Many people voted for Trump because he was supposedly a successful businessman, but the government is not a business and shouldn’t be run like one. One area where the two have similarities, though, is that to be effective, a President – like the leader of any complex organization – has to create a vision and bring on the right deputies to implement it.

For all of the Trump Administration’s “Make America Great Again” sloganeering and #MAGA hashtagging, that does not a vision make. It may be great branding, but it lacks the details for successful implementation. And where there should be a clear vision – on health care, for example – this President has put so many contradicting ideas out there that it’s clear there is no vision other than rolling back the clock.

We have now a President without experience governing and a Communications Director without experience in communications strategy. This, it seems, was Sean Spicer’s red line. After 182 days as Trump’s mouthpiece, Spicer leaves the White House with one of the shortest tenures in modern history.

For all the alternative facts he spewed day in and day out, the blanket denials and the combative press conferences, it seems that Spicer finally had to reckon with the fact that the new Tokyo-on-the-Potomac was here to stay. And, as the old movies go, Godzilla never leaves things better than he finds them.

Now, I need to check my betting pools to see who had Spicer as the first to go.


About the Author: Andrew Ricci, Vice President at D.C. communications firm LEVICK. Andrew, an experienced media relations expert, content-creation specialist, and public affairs strategist, started his career working on political campaigns and on Capitol Hill, serving as a senior communications aide to Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) and as the Congressman’s official spokesman during his reelection campaign. At LEVICK, Andrew now counsels a wide range of clients navigating reputational challenges in the public eye.