Sean Spicer thinks everyone needs to calm down. “People are reading too much” into his appearance at the Emmy Awards, the former White House spokesman told the Associated Press on Monday. In case you missed it (and you wouldn’t be the only one since the Emmys had record low ratings), Spicer popped up during Stephen Colbert’s monologue to joke that “this will be the largest audience to witness the Emmys. Period.”
Some members of the punditocracy were upset that Colbert was apparently “normalizing” Spicer and, by extension, Donald Trump: The web site Vox said it was “incredibly disappointing” to see Colbert joking with Spicer. “It went against everything Colbert purports to do on his fiercely pointed ‘Late Show,’ and retroactively sucked the air out of any biting Trump jokes he tried to make in his opening monologue.” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni titled his piece about the show “The Shameful Embrace of Sean Spicer at the Emmys.” On The View, Joy Behar said that if Spicer and other Trump surrogates apologize to the American people, “then I’ll have fun with you, Sean.”
But it turns out that those folks were actually in the minority. “I was surprised at how nice people were to me,” Spicer said, “even the people who I know don’t agree with me politically.” Indeed, photos of the event after the ceremony showed plenty of Hollywood sidling up to the man who was the face of the Trump administration for the better part of the year. Even Hollywood couldn’t resist selfies with the guy.
Which is not surprising. Spicer has more in common with the bimbos and himbos of Hollywood than he has with any serious politician or policymaker in Washington. How did Spicer get invited? Apparently Colbert’s producer knew Spicer “from his background in news,” according to ABC.
Indeed, for most of Spicer’s career, he has been a public relations guy. He did this for the Republican National Committee, for Endeavor Global Strategies, a public relations firm he co-founded to represent foreign governments and corporations that had business with the U.S. government (including some that wanted to push for more free trade), for the U.S. House Budget Committee and for anyone else who would hire him.
I’m not saying that everyone who goes into public relations is an unprincipled hack. But let’s just say that if you’re the communications guy, your job is not to formulate policy, let alone defend principles. It’s to communicate the message of the people paying you. As a journalist, I have fielded calls from PR folks selling me one message one day and a different message a few months later. People in the news business or in politics regularly go to work in communications, but they often acknowledge that they are “selling out.”
Why, one might wonder, was it just left-wing pundits who were criticizing Colbert for bringing Spicer on stage? Weren’t any principled folks on the right wondering why a guy who spent months defending his boss’s attacks on the left-wing media and the cultural elite was now hobnobbing with these same people? Maybe they didn’t expect anything else. After all, the same guy who said “there is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably” when Trump attacked John McCain, then went to work in the White House.
But just what does someone who was just a few years ago working as the communications director for the House Republican Conference doing at an awards ceremony that regularly bashes any conservative impulse, and mocks middle America? What did he do backstage? Laugh it up with Hanoi Jane Fonda? Bump fists with Donald Glover, who said, “I want to thank Trump for making black people number one on the most-oppressed list?”
All of which is to say that there’s a reason Sean Spicer was given such a warm welcome by Hollywood. Spicer and his new actor friends are a lot alike—spineless, unprincipled narcissists with no memory for anything that happened five minutes ago.