Anthony Scaramucci’s first week as White House communications director has been one for the history books.
The former hedge fund manager publicly aired his feud with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in a vivid and profanity-laced rant to The New Yorker, and he also threatened first to fire, then to “kill,” the entire White House communications department.
In tweets and near-daily TV appearances, Scaramucci has bragged about using the Justice Department and FBI as a private law enforcement arm, saying he has personally requested that they hunt down West Wing leakers (such contacts would be a violation of White House and DOJ contact policy, former DOJ officials say).
He’s also displayed a stunning lack of familiarity with what qualifies as a leak, lashing out over rumors that a former assistant press secretary would be fired after he broke that news himself and railing against the “leak” of his financial disclosure form, which is a public document.
In just seven days, Scaramucci has taken the inward, disciplined role of communications director and turned it outwards, laying the chaos of the back-stabbing administration bare (he describes himself as the “front-stabbing” type).
Trump is reportedly unfussed by the drama, and apparently wanted Scaramucci, who has no communications experience, in the job precisely because he served as a smooth television surrogate for his administration.
Meanwhile, former White House communications and press staffers are horrified.
“To me it seems like he’s trying to come in as gangbusters and try to show the strength of his relationship with the President and also show the President that he’s got his back and is really looking out for him,” a former press office official in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who requested anonymity to offer candid professional judgment, told TPM. “But that’s not the way to do it, and he’s actually undermining the message the President wants to get out because he’s called attention to himself with all the statements that he’s made. He’s becoming the story.”
Becoming a media character is sacrilege in political communications and in the White House in general, where staffers are supposed to focus on advancing the President’s agenda behind the scenes. Traditionally, press secretaries and their deputies take on the outward-facing duties of press briefings and day-to-day interactions with reporters, while communications directors focus on long-term strategy.
“It tells me that he’s not doing the planning and the plotting out of how are they going to support the President’s agenda, how are they going to define the agenda and communicate it to the public,” Ellen Moran, a former communications director for President Barack Obama, told TPM of Scaramucci’s frequent appearances as a media “combatant.”
“There’s significant risk that whatever structure is there to enact policy and actually do the functions of agenda-setting are on the verge of completely breaking down, if they haven’t already,” Moran added.
As he himself has said, Scaramucci seems to see his role as a mouthpiece for Trump, advocating his policies in the public square and taking out any staffers who undermine the President’s authority. His frequent insistence on his close relationship with Trump has already created some headaches; he told Fox News that they had discussed the President’s ability to pardon himself, while one of the private lawyers representing Trump in the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election said that the team had never discussed pardons with the President.
Previous press staff have cautioned against taking such a personal, news-generating approach.
Calling Scaramucci an “excellent spokesman & fighter for POTUS,” Ari Fleischer, press secretary for George W. Bush, issued a warning on Twitter: “Beware of how much PR you’re generating. #AskIcarus”
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) July 27, 2017
Other Bush administration veterans had harsher reviews for Scaramucci’s brief tenure, particularly in the wake of his jaw-dropping New Yorker interview, in which he accused chief strategist Steve Bannon of attempting to suck his “own cock” through media self-promotion.
“HOLY SHIT! Are the only words that come to mind after reading this,” Steve Schmidt, GOP communications operative and deputy assistant to former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in a tweet about the interview. “What a desecration of the dignity of the office of President of the US.”
HOLY SHIT! Are the only words that come to mind after reading this. What a desecration of the dignity of the office of President of the US. https://t.co/KqNpiOKhS8
— Steve Schmidt (@SteveSchmidtSES) July 27, 2017
“Free advice @Scaramucci : stop tweeting. Stop blaming,” Nicolle Wallace, Bush’s communications director, wrote in a tweet. “Get yourself together + vow to do better.”
— Nicolle Wallace (@NicolleDWallace) July 28, 2017
For the moment, Scaramucci seems to have taken the hint. Boarding Air Force One Friday for a trip to Long Island, New York with White House staffers including Priebus, Scaramucci was asked about their feud.
“Better not to comment,” a subdued Scaramucci reportedly said.