by Cinzia Croce
Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure as Director of Communications at the White House was brief but impactful — he was able to push out Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus in just a matter of days. He showed a lot of gusto — albeit heavy-handed gusto — in his approach, and it’s hard to see how his free-wheeling style would fit with the military discipline of the new Chief of Staff, General John Kelly. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated that the infamous interview Scaramucci gave the New Yorker was the reason for his departure, but it is more likely that his personal issues played a larger role. His wife has filed for divorce, and it promises to be a nasty episode, certain to generate lots of scandalous headlines –- another distraction the Trump administration does not need. Scaramucci fought very hard to get his ten days in the White House and I believe he will make a comeback after he settles his personal life.
One person sure to be thrilled at Scaramucci leaving the White House is Laura Ingraham. For months her name had been floated for Director of Communications, and when it was announced that Scaramucci had gotten the job, she wasted no time to voice her strong disapproval. She began an unrelenting attack on him while filling in as host on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News Channel. She continued to blast him the next morning on her radio show and then on her Twitter and Facebook accounts, took the weekend off, and resumed her criticism on Monday. She seemed more upset about Scaramucci than the GOP failure to repeal Obamacare. Her reaction was so disproportionate that one has to wonder whether it was a case of sour grapes — but now she has another chance and her name is being floated again.
Ingraham has been very critical of the White House communications operation. She often laments the president’s achievements not receiving the media attention they should, and blames the lack of message discipline. She has repeatedly castigated the president for being sloppy, and prone to factual errors while using Twitter. She prefers more sterile, factually accurate tweets that will cause no controversy. To her credit, Ingraham is not just a critic. She also offers a solution to the communications woes afflicting the White House: be more like Reagan. When she worked at the Reagan White House, she fondly recalls, they were able to get their message out by being disciplined, everyone reading from the same script. They would spend one week promoting their transportation agenda, another week on job creation, and then to the next issue they wanted to emphasize. To bolster her argument, she reaches out to Craig Shirley, Reagan biographer and expert in all things having to do with the late president — and together they urge Trump to be more like the Gipper.
The problem with Ingraham’s advice is that has already been tried. During the president’s first foreign trip to the Middle East and Europe he did exactly what she recommends – no controversial tweets, stayed on script, 100% disciplined. Did the media focus their coverage on the substance of the trip? Did the media spend more time covering the new counter-terrorism initiative or his handshake with French president Emanuel Macron? Countless articles were dedicated to the First Lady swatting the president’s hand away, complete with speculation of trouble in the marriage – maybe she won’t be moving into the White House! There was barely any coverage of Trump being the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall, but lots of replays of the president pushing his way to the front of a photo-op at the NATO summit. Spending a week featuring a particular issue has also been tried. The White House announced “Made in America Week” to promote products manufactured in the United States, only to have the press focus on Ivanka Trump, whose company outsources its production to China. If they were to have “Education Week”, the media would cover Barron’s grades or the First Lady not finishing her college degree.
It amazing that someone who has been around Washington for as long as Ingraham is so naïve as to think that what worked during Reagan would still be effective today’s world of 24/7 cable news and multiple social media platforms competing for traffic. There is nothing preventing the media from covering policy and other substantive issues despite their protestations that it is the president stepping on his own message. There is no one pointing a gun to their heads forcing them to cover the latest tweet or rumor. The Trump administration is struggling to get positive coverage because much of the traditional press has joined “The Resistance” and the rest prefer covering gossip, speculation and polls — they really love polls. Especially those that reinforce their narrative.
The Mooch is gone. Laura Ingraham now has another shot at the prize, and I sincerely hope she gets it. I want to see whether she manages to do the impossible: forcing the media to cover positive stories about the Trump administration.