While President Obama is trying to keep a conciliatory tone about his successor, his spokesman is not. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is emerging as the West Wing’s bad cop to Obama’s good cop. Except this bad cop is kind of like your peevish little brother who tattles about the kegger you had when your parents were out of town and tries to be funny in a cringe-worthy way.
White House press secretary is a tough job. Yet it’s one thing to flak for your boss and defend him against his political detractors; it’s another thing to directly insert yourself in the most contentious, divisive presidential election in modern history. Since Election Day, Earnest has waded into areas he should not, ginning up doubt about everything from Donald Trump’s win to his cabinet choices to his central role in the Russian hacking scandal.
On Monday, Earnest unleashed a lengthy monologue, laying out a series of alleged connections between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to buttress the idea that Russia influenced the election in Trump’s favor.
Furthermore, it was presented in a way to convince people Trump pulled the strings on the hacking, a really shameful tactic for anyone standing just steps from the Oval Office: “You didn’t need a security clearance to figure out who benefitted from malicious cyber activity. The president-elect didn’t call it into question. He called on Russia to hack his opponent. He called on Russia to hack Secretary Clinton.”
Trump Was Getting KGB Intel?
Aside from the fact that is patently false (Trump said in July, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” about the emails Clinton deleted from her private server), Earnest is attempting to build a case that Trump orchestrated the Russian email hacking: “The last several weeks of the election were focused on a discussion of emails that had been hacked and leaked by the Russians. These were emails from the DNC and John Podesta. Not from the RNC and Steve Bannon” (drink! Bannon mention!).
Earnest then continued the Clinton campaign propaganda that Trump has close ties to the Russians (reading from notes, presumably greenlighted by higher-ups). Here were a few of his examples: “It was the president-elect who indicated he thought that President Putin was a strong leader. It was the president-elect who refused to disclose his financial connections to Russia. It was the president-elect who hired a campaign chairman with extensive, lucrative, personal financial ties to Russia.” While this proves nothing, it’s Earnest’s attempt to fuel doubt not just about Trump, but the election itself.
On Wednesday, Earnest doubled down on those remarks. Without any sense of irony, following several tough questions about how the administration responded to the Russian-backed “genocide” in Aleppo (Earnest said—dispassionately—that the “president is deeply troubled by the innocent loss of life in Syria”), he launched into yet another conspiracy-story meme that Trump knew, orchestrated, and encouraged the Russians to hack his political opponents:
There is ample evidence…about the Trump campaign and Russia. Everything from the Republican nominee himself calling on Russia to hack his opponent…it might be an indication he was obviously aware and concluded, based on whatever facts or sources he had available to him, that Russia was involved. And their involvement was having a negative impact on his opponent’s campaign, that’s why he was encouraging them to keep doing it.
Unsurprisingly, no reporter pushed back on his outrageous insinuation that Trump had some kind of secret KGB source feeding him info about John Podesta’s emails. This crosses a line, and the media knows it. But it would be no fun to take the intrigue out of this fake news.
We’re Pretty Darned Sore Losers
Other comments since November 8 may help Earnest graduate as valedictorian from the Jay Carney School of Political Pettiness. Less than 12 hours after Trump won the election, Earnest started spinning Clinton’s defeat and diminishing Trump’s victory. Here’s what he said on November 9: “The first is that Secretary Clinton won the popular vote. Now, winning the popular vote is not what gets you the keys to the Oval Office. You got to win the electoral vote. But it does underscore the depth of support and enthusiasm for her message and for her campaign.”
So before the country can even fully process one of the biggest electoral upsets in history, the White House spokesman is already trying to undermine the president-elect’s credibility with the old “popular vote” saw, a mantra that continues today and would be maddening except that it makes the losers’ pain even more searing. Ah, sweet schadenfreude.
Speaking of pain, the White House must’ve been sore about Trump’s deal with Carrier to keep nearly 1,000 jobs here instead of shipping them off to Mexico. In his November 30 press briefing, Earnest poked the deal in the eye: “I know that the president-elect has indicated that he deserves credit for that announcement. And I guess what I would observe is that if he is successful in doing that 804 more times, then he will meet the record of manufacturing jobs that were created in the United States while President Obama was in office.” I’m surprised he didn’t say nanny-nanny-boo-boo and stick out his tongue after that.
Earnest took childish jabs at the net worth of some of Trump’s cabinet appointees. In fairness, Earnest at times seems like a guy who really wants to be a comedian but isn’t and when he tries to tell a joke you realize why he isn’t. Here’s part of the exchange with a reporter on December 7:
Earnest: The kinds of people that President-elect Trump has chosen appear to have, in many cases, different priorities, different styles and, in some cases, starkly different bank accounts.
Reporter: Are you saying their bank account affects someone’s capability?
Earnest: Not at all. I think it — I don’t think it would actually have much of an impact at all on anybody’s ability to serve the country.
Reporter: Why did you say it then?
Earnest: Mostly to be funny. And it got a couple of chuckles. I guess that goes to that old adage, though, if you have to explain the joke, it wasn’t that funny. So maybe it wasn’t.
Um, no. With more than a month to go, Earnest should let others outside the White House do the political mud-slinging and conspiracy-theorizing.