What Was Sean Spicer Doing?

Spicer wants to remind Trump voters that they do matter.

Almost from the moment White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer came out Saturday to argue with reporters about the attendance at President Trump’s inauguration, people were trying to figure out what he was doing.

Beginning with the obvious fact that he was acting in loco Trump, some assumed he was avenging his boss’s hurt feelings.

Others seem inclined to see it solely as a play on the media—giving him room to rework the management of the press pool, or trolling the mainstream media by getting them to undermine what’s left of their own credibility. Lord knows they immediately went to DefCon 1 on a story that could have been responsibly handled by calmly comparing White House assertions with expert crowd estimates.

While the game with the press is certainly part of what was going on here, something else was was happening—something more directly related to Trump’s brand of populism. As usual, it pays to think about how this sounds, in context, to the people who voted for him last November.

Looking at realistic estimates, Trump’s crowd was comparable to George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration, in other words, as routine as inaugurations get. Neither was as large as Obama’s in 2009; the first African-American to be sworn in was guaranteed to draw huge crowds from the predominantly black capital city.

In short, they don’t tell us much we don’t already know.

However, by minimizing Trump’s crowd, emphasizing how small it was compared to the historic Obama inaugural, and simultaneously swooning over the “Women’s March,” in effect an inauguration-that-wasn’t for Hillary Clinton, the press is telling Trump’s voters that they don’t matter.

Ponder that. These Americans have spent years—decades, even—being told they don’t matter. They’ve spent the last six years electing Republicans to offices in every branch at every level of government, only to be told that the presidency is what really matters, and the coastal elites have an emerging majority Electoral College lock on that.

Then, even though they’re told they can’t win, and that it won’t matter, they show up when it’s supposed to count. They elect a president. They show up in person, and set live streaming records to see him take office. The president they elect says that he’s going to work to return power to them.

And then, that day and the next, the same people who’ve been telling them that they don’t count tell them that it’s all meaningless. An elite that cannot manage to win or keep a majority in Congress, in state governorships, in state legislatures, or even in county governments are still their betters and they still win.

So there was Sean Spicer, talking right to them through the assembled press corps.

By insisting that viewership—Spicer also separately mentioned people viewing remotely—was larger, Spicer was saying to them, in effect, “Yes, you do matter. The press is still trying to say that you don’t. President Trump is barely sworn in, and they’re already trying to get people to forget about you. But we know you matter.” It was the Trump version of Nixon’s appeal to the great, Silent Majority.

While a useful political strategy, it is also not without risk. In times of actual crisis, such as armed conflict, people will need to know that the president is playing it straight. And ultimately, everyone knows that Trump will be judged by results, not by rhetoric.

Still, when people ask why Sean Spicer called the press together on a Saturday to pick a fight over crowd size, the answer seems simple: he was reminding Trump’s supporters that they didn’t get to the White House by paying attention to people who tell them they don’t count.

About Joshua Sharf

Joshua Sharf has headed the Independence Institute’s PERA Project for three years. In that time he has authored a number of Backgrounders and Issue papers on Colorado’s Public Pensions, contributed to the Institute’s weekly newspaper column, and spoken to political and civic groups across the state on the subject. He routinely testifies before the state legislature on proposed pension reform bills. He is Vice Chairman of the Denver Republican Party and has also done original reporting on PERA for Watchdog.org and I2I’s Complete Colorado news site and is a regular guest on local talk radio, discussing this and other state and national political issues. He has an MBA and an MS in Finance from the University of Denver’s Daniels School of Business, and has also worked as a sell-side equities research analyst.

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10 responses to “What Was Sean Spicer Doing?

  • The press ran photo’s of a largely empty Washington Mall – taken hours before the Trump inauguration – and pretended that they were an accurate reflection of the turnout. As has so often been the case, they were a lot less accurate and truthful than Spicer or Trump.

    …when people ask why Sean Spicer called the press together on a Saturday to pick a fight over crowd size…

    But he did not actually do that. He pointed out various other examples of press dishonesty as well – such as the claim that Trump had a bust of MLK Jr removed from the Oval office. That allegation was proven to be categorically false, so the press dropped it completely down the memory hole.

  • Trump’s crowd was not comparable to W’s first inauguration. It was at least twice the size of it. W’s 1st was estimated at 300k, and his second at 400k. If you look at photos of those, there is no one on the mall. You can see grass all the way back to the Washington Monument. Trump’s crowd was easily double that. I was there this year and in 2005. In 2005, we got there right as it started and still got onto the Capitol lawn. This year, we got there hours early and the lawn was already full forcing us into overflow down Pennsylvania Ave.

  • Fine, I’ll stipulate that Trump’s inauguration was sparsely attended, if his opponents currently in a fit of hysterical blindness will stipulate that DC is a dangerous city, and his supporters were quite justified in fearing violence from a town full of lunatics, leeches, and gangsters that has been comparable to Beirut in its barbarism. Capisce?

  • 3D chess. Distraction. The Sunday shows were already in preproduction with guests and things to talk about. That Sat eve press-beating sucked the o2 from the room. All the Sunday shows had to cover it… and cover whether or not CNN’s picture hit was accurate or not. I’m telling ya, Trump is no idiot and he knows how TV works and he KNOWS , he has NO allies in these newsrooms, … yes, even Fox. They are all about narratives and ratings and ” oh look, a squirrel!”. Master trolling… the Art of the Deal.

  • Of course Barak got a bigger crowd in 2009. So what? Washington, DC has long been known as “the Black capital of the world,” and they didn’t have far to travel. DC and its suburbs were not exactly hotbeds of Trump support. Folks had to come long distances in crappy weather, which many did, but not quite as many as turned out for the so-called “first Black President.” Sean Spicer should have said, “The Boss didn’t like the invidious comparisons, but we were delighted with the folks that came from all over the country to cheer us on. Now go back to your playpens and start reporting on all the news we’re making.” /Mr Lynn

  • Absolutely great analysis and writing! I can only add that it is vital that all you readers email & phone your representatives in Congress and call Paul Ryan @ 202 225 3031.

    Keep emailing & phoning the tv networks and newspapers/magazines and their sponsors. And the movie companies. We must keep hammering away at the MSM until they change to become pro-America or they go out of business!

    AND BOYCOTT any anti-American business.

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