Steve Bannon’s recent excommunication from Trumpendom paved the way for the return of one of the most colorful and curious characters of the administration’s first year. Anthony Scaramucci, who spent a cup of coffee as White House communications director in July, is back.
In the wake of the dubious allegations in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury,” Scaramucci reemerged as a preeminent Trump surrogate on cable news, pouring water on what the news media thought was an administration in flames.
One of the telling moments in the Trump-Bannon schism was the president’s fiery statement in which he claimed the latter had lost his mind. Both Scaramucci and Donald Trump Jr. noted on Twitter that criticism of Bannon as more interested in himself than in Trump mirrored the saltier language Scaramucci had used in his infamous profanity-laden rant to New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza that got Scaramucci fired.
At the time, the firing was spun as Chief of Staff John Kelly tugging on the reins and demanding discipline. But nearly six months later, when Scaramucci’s concerns about Bannon turned out to be legitimate and were basically repeated in the president’s rebuke, it’s clear that the Mooch still has juice in the Trump White House.
Trump Forces His Comms Team to React to Cable News
Earlier this month, rumors said Scaramucci might actually be returning to 1600 Pennsylvania in an official capacity. He has denied this. Frankly, it’s not a bad idea. His 10 days in office were actually some of the cleanest for Trump, from a communications standpoint. Since his departure, Hope Hicks has taken over the nearly impossible task, and the results have been mixed at best.
The problem with being Trump’s communications director, a top staff position generally coveted by comms people, is that the principal has zero message discipline. One of the comms shop’s key jobs is to set the agenda each day, to say “Here’s what we want to talk about today and what we want the media talking about.” Bizarrely, that job has been farmed out to an unlikely source: the morning news program “Fox and Friends.”
Almost every day during his executive hours, Trump watches the program and usually reacts to a segment or guest on Twitter. This often happens very nearly in real time. Within minutes, other news outlets are reporting on the tweets, and whatever the day’s messaging was meant be gets swept under the ensuing coverage. One wonders if the producers of “Fox and Friends” get to work and discuss how they plan to affect the president’s agenda today.
This is not going to change. Kelly may hold the keys to entering the Oval Office for meetings, but he clearly doesn’t control the TV remote, and cable news has nearly constant access to Trump. This is an unconventional situation that the comms team at the White House has to deal with. Planning is futile, everything is quick reaction, and that is where Scaramucci is at his best.
Anthony Scaramucci Is a Bright Spot
Even if Scaramucci would be incapable of cleaning up the communications mess in-house, there is still reason to keep him front and center. He’s fun. That may sound trivial, but this White House often feels like Mordor. We hear stories of a furious president and terrified staffers. Nobody smiles. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who has done an admirable job under tough conditions, has done so with a standoffish style.
Ivanka Trump, who was supposedly going to be the lovable face of the White House, is missing in action, replaced by daily snark from her brother Don. There aren’t even any pets. A few weeks ago, White House advisor Stephen Miller was carted onto TV for a train wreck of an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Whatever one thought of the merits of the discussion or Tapper’s behavior, Miller came off about as likable as a staph infection. Camelot this is not.
All of this is a big reason Scaramucci was such a hit in July and his return is so useful. He is funny, clever, is self-deprecating in his humor, and he smiles, something woefully lacking from this administration in general. The Mooch defends Trump the right way, as a tough New York guy who uses colorful language and gets results. That approach serves two purposes that rarely intersect: it works with the public and it makes the president happy.
An Unconventional Talker for an Unconventional President
For almost any other politician Scaramucci would be a laughable point man, but for Trump, he is a perfect fit. Many Trump surrogates get tripped up and embarrassed by the president’s policy pivots. Time and time again, a new message pulls the rug out from under the argument they were earnestly making yesterday.
Scaramucci and a few others—notably another New Yorker, Staten Island City Councilman Joe Borelli—are able to navigate this phenomenon. They do it by staying loose, not getting too mired in details, and basically saying, “Trump isn’t conventional, you’re not always going to understand what he is doing or why, but it will work.” Regarding some relatively remarkable first-year achievements, it has indeed worked in many cases.
If the White House is smart, we will be seeing more of Scaramucci. At his best, he can make the chaotic and sloppy seem dynamic and flexible. It’s the message that an undisciplined administration, with a boss who might literally say anything at any given moment, needs. Better than anyone else, the Mooch can get that message across.