Milbank: The tragedy of Sean Spicer is classic Trump
WASHINGTON — I'm often asked if I think President Trump will make it through all four years of his term.
My stock reply: The better question is whether we will survive the next four years.
It wouldn't surprise me at all if he does make it to 2020 without impeachment, or the 25th Amendment, blocking his path. Trump has a long history of walking out of disasters unscathed. It's those around him — the Sean Spicers of the world — who are destroyed.
Alas, poor Spicer! I knew him well.
He was one of the top Republican flacks in town, affable and quick witted, always happy to dish with reporters off the record. I liked him. I still like him — or at least that Spicer I knew before he answered Donald Trump's call.
The Spicer who strode into the White House briefing room Monday afternoon I did not recognize. He scanned the room, unsmiling. He furtively checked his watch. He recited a long opening statement carefully and flatly, as if reading from a science textbook. And he had absolutely nothing to say.
President Trump's hint that he taped conversations with Jim Comey? "I was very clear that the president would have nothing further on that last week."
The Russia probe generally? "The president's position's been very clear."
And everything else: "I think I've made it very clear. … He made it very clear. … It's been made very clear."
Spicer was studiously dour and clearly wasn't enjoying himself. He was puffy, pinched and pale. And little wonder: Trump has sucked the lifeblood out of him.
The president turned him into a national punchline on his first day on the job, forcing him to provide "alternative facts" about the inauguration. On Friday morning, Trump confirmed for the world what was widely suspected: Spicer doesn't really know what's going on. "As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!" Trump proclaimed.
The next day, "Saturday Night Live" did its latest sendup of the hapless spokesman. This time Melissa McCarthy's Spicer hid in the bushes, attacked reporters and rode his motorized podium in search of Trump, vainly seeking assurance that he hadn't been lied to. Alec Baldwin's Trump tried to grope and kiss McCarthy's Spicer.
"Is this like 'The Godfather' when you kiss me and no one ever sees me again?" the Spicer character asked.
"Yes," the Trump character answered.
It's a matter of time until life imitates sketch. Washington is abuzz with speculation about when Spicer will be shown the door, but it doesn't really matter. His credibility, and his dignity, already have been defenestrated.
He will soon be added to the heap of unhappy people who cast their lot with Trump and were repaid with misery.
Trump entities have filed for bankruptcy protection six times. Investors, lenders and workers took hits — and Trump moved on. Trump was caught on tape boasting to Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women — and Billy Bush lost his job. Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort poured themselves into Trump's campaign and were unceremoniously dumped.
The carnage has increased since Trump came to Washington. National security adviser Michael Flynn is out and potentially in legal trouble. The FBI's Comey arguably handed Trump the election — and learned of his dismissal from TV. As my Washington Post colleague Abby Phillip documented, Vice President Pence has been "unflagging in his loyalty," only to be made "the public face of official narratives that turn out to be misleading or false." Trump humiliated Steve Bannon by publicly downplaying their association. Trump repaid House Speaker Paul Ryan's loyalty by winking at calls for Ryan's ouster. Attempts to defend Trump by aides Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have left them sounding clownish. Trump takes what he can from each of his aides and allies, and then moves on.
It would seem that time is near for Spicer, who started Monday's briefing 45 minutes late and, in the minutes that followed, avoided answering questions by saying no fewer than 22 times how very "clear" he or Trump had been about this or that.
At the end of the lifeless performance by the beleaguered spokesman, what was clear is this: His utility to Trump has diminished. And, as many a Trump loyalist has discovered, you are useful to Trump until you are not — and then you are cast aside.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post.