When the press began reporting that my former boss Laura Ingraham might serve as press secretary in the forthcoming Trump administration, I was surprised she was considering it. Even as one of the most outspoken Trump advocates over the last campaign cycle, Laura would ostensibly be leaving behind the two media properties she’s created — “The Laura Ingraham Show,” her national radio show, and Lifezette, a political and lifestyle online magazine. I also wondered if a combative talk radio personality would work as an effective mouthpiece for a presidential administration.
Increasingly, I think the answer is yes.
In my years working as Laura’s executive producer, she taught me a number of lessons that have crossover value in a White House press shop.
Laura always emphasized the utility of populist appeals. It doesn’t matter how clever your ideas are if you can’t command an audience to help usher them into action. During my time on her show, Sarah Palin became a controversial phenomenon. Laura believed Palin was an important figure in the conservative movement because she’s one of the few who can actually draw massive crowds. Populism, she felt, is what helps policy become practical.
So it’s no surprise Laura likewise found a movement leader in Trump. Whatever one thinks of his oratorical stylings, he’s the rare public figure who amasses tens of thousands of spectators for every speech. If Trump stays focused on pushing through conservative policy reforms, maintaining his populist support will be invaluable.
One question Laura always posed to her producers was “Why should I care?” The question is meant to help guide the production of a segment, always keeping a mind toward listeners who have no interest in politics or even the news. Why does Topic X matter to them? When you form an argument so it relates to the everyday life of your listener, you’ll inevitably be more successful persuading that listener.
As press secretary, I’d imagine Laura will adhere to her own dictum, framing policy arguments in terms of how they’ll help the people watching at home. To me, this was always a great failing of the Bush administration’s efforts to supplement Social Security with private accounts. Rather than trying to scare people about the program’s budgeting issues 10 years down the road, why not emphasize how Americans can instead amass more wealth for their retirements, which they’d actually own?
As a Trump skeptic, I’m sure he’ll abandon the few conservative themes of his campaign the moment it’s personally convenient. Laura is clearly much more conservative than Trump, and if she worked in any kind of advisory capacity, I’m confident she’d fight to bind President Trump’s to Candidate Trump’s promises. Whether ultimately successful or not, Laura would never consign herself to being a “yes” woman as he tries pivoting back toward his liberal roots.
Unlike most public-sector bosses, who get nothing from their workers because they give nothing by way of example, Laura works hard and expects the same from staff. As a manager, her standards are actually so high they’re impossible to meet. My friend and former Ingraham Show colleague said working for her was way more challenging than surviving the basic training he endured at the U.S. Air Force. For the three years I produced Laura’s show, I woke everyday at 4 a.m. and went to bed around midnight, somehow managing to push my productivity meter a little further every day. That expectation of indomitable performance is bound to clash with career DCers, but that’s hardly the worst thing.
While I don’t share Trump’s brand of “nationalist” conservatism — trade tariffs, restricted immigration, swapping failing federal programs with “really great” replacements, with a cursory nod toward improving the domestic business climate — Laura’s a true believer. Segments like “China Watch” and “America in Decline” are frequent features on her radio show. Whereas you sometimes wonder whether Josh Earnest actually believes his daily defenses of Obamacare, with Laura, Trump will know his chief spokesman is faithfully fighting on his behalf.
Laura’s also sharp, loves to spar, and has a quick wit, talents that will serve well once the White House press corps again views itself as resident gadflies. If Trump wants to make good on his promise of bringing in outsiders to shake things up and actually deliver a full-throated case for his agenda, Laura is a logical addition to the team.
Disclosure: As Laura’s former longtime producer, it’s actually not in my financial interest to push her as a possible press secretary. I founded and run the news-clipping service Grabien, and Ingraham’s media companies are among our clients.