Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ job was pointless. And she knew it.
When Sanders resigned as White House press secretary, she hadn’t held a press briefing in 94 days. Her last major media appearance was with George Stephanopoulos, who grilled her about inconsistent statements exposed by the Mueller Report that she’d tried to explain away as a “slip of the tongue.” She’d been caught lying and it didn’t matter. It was the perfect way to end to her tenure as press secretary. It was also a convincing argument for ending the job for the rest of Trump’s time in office.
The Trump administration doesn’t need a press secretary. And we all might be better off without one.
White House press secretaries have always lied; we just call it spin to make ourselves feel better. Serving the truth isn’t in the job description. As Dwight Eisenhower’s press secretary James Hagerty once said, “I am here to work for one man, who happens to be the president. And I will do that to the best of my ability.” Hagerty was a former journalist but he understood that a president’s press secretary isn’t supposed to simply convey information. Their job is to control it.
Press briefings were never meant to inform the public. They’re meant to create the appearance of informing the public. It makes the administration look transparent and the media appear knowledgeable, even when reporters’ questions are tame and the responses aren’t revealing. Sanders and Trump shattered that illusion of responsive democracy with their overt contempt for truth.
Donald Trump is an inarticulate but cunning public speaker whose knack for attracting media attention allows him to bend the 24-hour news cycle to his will. He says what he wants when he wants, whether it’s in a tweet or during an impromptu press conference, and the media and its media-saturated audience can’t resist getting caught up. But Trump contradicts himself constantly, whether he’s aware of it or not. Asking a press secretary about a tweet the president sent an hour ago that directly refutes something he said yesterday is an exercise in futility.
Trump fans loves watching him battle the media. With his carnival barker-like instinct for appealing to the basest impulses of a crowd, Trump senses that his media fights are good business. And because access to Trump is limited, Sanders bore the brunt of an understandably frustrated press corps. She did her best to fight his battles, sparring with reporters like Jim Acosta and April Ryan. But all she did was reinforce the administration’s disdain for the media and objective facts over and over again. And while that might’ve been helpful early on, it’s become pointless more than two years in.
Trump still gives the occasional interview, confident he’s a genius in total control of his message, even if his recent sitdown with Stephanopoulos proved he’s a disoriented rambling buffoon who doesn’t understand editing. Meanwhile, talking heads like Kellyanne Conway will spin his yarn on cable news and bicker with anchors on CNN or commiserate with ones on Fox News.
Trump shouldn’t bother hiring another press secretary. It doesn’t matter who’s taking questions if their answers are always lies. And maybe it could free up some journalists to do some work that might actually matter.