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Politics & Government

Glenn Thrush On The Trump Communications Changes


Sean Spicer held the job of White House press secretary for just six months. He was accused of trying to deceive the press in his first minute at the podium, when he incorrectly said the audience for the Trump inauguration was the largest in history. He mangled famous names and titles. He said Adolf Hitler hadn't used chemical weapons, for which he apologized. And his name became a punchline on late-night TV. I could go on.

Glenn Thrush is a White House correspondent for The New York Times. He broke the news of Mr. Spicer's resignation. He's also been savagely portrayed on "Saturday Night Live." Glenn, thanks very much for being with us.

GLENN THRUSH: I hope you're not savage.

SIMON: No, no, no, no. And actually, Bobby Moynihan does a good Glenn Thrush.

THRUSH: (Laughter).

SIMON: From what you discovered, did Sean Spicer jump, or was he pushed?

THRUSH: I think he was - he definitely jumped, but he was being pushed aside. He wasn't necessarily being pushed out the window. I think he was being put into the broom closet. Spicer has really been on the bubble for a while. It's been probably about two months that the - that it's been known that he's been dissatisfied, the president's been dissatisfied. But the paradox of Donald Trump is for his you're-fired catchline, for all of that, he is actually exceedingly reluctant to get rid of people. And he really wanted Spicer to stay.

But I think the critical issue here is Spicer, who has proven to have an incredibly high tolerance for chaos, believed that Scaramucci was a bad hire, that Scaramucci would just play to the president's worst instincts. And Spicer, of all people, thought the White House is descending into chaos and that Scaramucci's arrival would do nothing to stop that.

SIMON: Does the White House worry that he now signs a big book deal and goes on the talk show circuit and starts dishing?

THRUSH: I don't think they're worried about it. I think they want him to do that. In a way, those are the golden handcuffs. Remember, the White House and Spicer are narrowcasting to about 25 to 30 percent of the population that already supports them. So it doesn't really behoove Spicer to turn on Trump so much as it does to become one of many outside voices that is generally supportive of him but chides him from time to time.

SIMON: Before we say goodbye to Sean Spicer as White House press secretary, let me ask very bluntly - did he lie to you and all reporters, including ours, in that White House briefing room?

THRUSH: Well, I would say, the answer is a calibrated yes. I hate to use that word, as most people do. But if a person understands the information that they are passing along isn't truthful and they have foreknowledge of that, I think you can draw that conclusion. But I think, more than anything else, I believe that both Mr. Trump and Mr. Spicer brought the level of discourse in that room down to the point where the interactions, at some point, have become at times almost meaningless.

And what's happened subsequent to Spicer's fall - and he's really been out of grace for a couple of months - is that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his replacement, has actually, I believe, brought it to an even lower level by not answering any questions. She is more courtly. She is more polite. She is harder to parody. But she provides actually less information than Sean Spicer.

SIMON: What are the implications now for Reince Priebus, the chief of staff? Because Mr. Spicer was his guy.

THRUSH: Look, if Sean Spicer had an otherworldly pain threshold, Reince is on a different level. He's been humbled so many times. My colleague Maggie Haberman and I report today that Trump yelled at him and Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, for opposing the Scaramucci hire. He has been marginalized, disempowered and yet, he hangs on. He's sort of the crabgrass of the West Wing.

SIMON: Well (laughter), Glenn Thrush, thanks very much for being with us here.

THRUSH: Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.