Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s most marketable skill is marketing. Before his job with the Trump administration, he was the communications director for the Republican Party, a position that made him responsible for how the party presented itself to the world. From Jan. 20 until this summer, that was sort of his position for President Trump, trying to navigate between presenting Trump as one might a typical president and presenting Trump the way Trump demanded.
He wasn’t often successful.
On Sunday evening, a grinning Spicer showed up at the Emmys to “poke fun” at his tenure working for Trump. He made a joke about the program’s audience size, a callback to the very first news briefing he held, on the day after Trump’s inauguration. There, a furious Spicer — although furious at who wasn’t clear — insisted that Trump’s declaration in front of a memorial to fallen CIA staffers that his inauguration boasted more than a million attendees was true, for certain definitions of “attendee.” It set the path for the next few months: Trump’s insistences, however distant from reality, would be dutifully spun by Spicer.
As our Aaron Blake points out, the Emmys appearance is part of Spicer’s personal marketing effort to rehab his public image, which isn’t great. He is one of a few people to leave Trump’s deeply unpopular administration of his own volition, which some part of Spicer clearly hopes will be interpreted as a move made out of principle. It wasn’t being asked to lie to the American people that led to his departure, though. The principle that actually drove his decision was “not wanting to work for Anthony Scaramucci.”
Spicer’s appearance Sunday earned a number of well-deserved public rebukes. Those rebukes, however, were probably made worse by a spate of other stories about how those who once worked for or with Trump had been awarded prestigious positions among the cultural elite the president so despises. For those who believe association with the Trump administration should be borne forever by that associate as a scarlet T, Spicer is only the most recent example of the establishment instead conferring an award.
But the picture of what happens to former Trump staffers is more complex. We’ve categorized them below.
The media darlings
Sean Spicer: In addition to his Emmys appearance, Spicer was on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show on ABC earlier this month. He weathered Kimmel’s overt criticisms as one might expect, taking advantage of the opportunity to distance himself from the things about Trump so many dislike.
In addition, Spicer is one of several former Trump aides who have been invited to participate in Harvard University’s visiting fellows program.
Anthony Scaramucci: Less than 24 hours after Spicer was on the Emmys, his former nemesis, Scaramucci, will co-host the show “TMZ Live.” Last week, he announced the creation of something called the Scaramucci Post. It’s not clear what that is.
It’s probably not a surprise that the former press secretary and Scaramucci, Trump’s communications-director-for-a-second, wound up courting media opportunities. Others went in another direction.
The career boosters
Corey Lewandowski: Lewandowski’s selection as a Harvard visiting fellow also earned a lot of criticism for the university. But his focus since Trump was inaugurated has mostly been on leveraging his unusual access to the president. He briefly worked for a lobbying firm he’d founded but eventually transitioned into doing “advisory” work. The difference? He suggests to people how to get things done in his former boss’s Washington without having to file as a lobbyist.
Lewandowski has also allegedly done a little lobbying on personal concerns, too.
Stephen K. Bannon: Before he took a position with Trump’s campaign after the 2016 primaries, Bannon was known only to close observers of Washington politics as the head of Breitbart News. A year later, Bannon’s position is once again the same, but his influence in the public imagination is exponentially larger. The end result of his association with Trump is that he and his news outlet are seen as influential in a way that wasn’t the case 12 months ago.