WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sean Spicer turned it up to 11 at his daily press briefing on Thursday.
Spicer, who has come under massive scrutiny in the wake of a biting Saturday Night Live sketch about him and a series of leaks about how displeased President Trump is with his performance, battled with reporters for 30 minutes — seeking out confrontation wherever he could find it.
Spicer repeatedly interrupted and talked over reporters — particularly when they sought clarification on the criticism Trump has leveled at Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) over how he characterized a meeting with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Spicer's incredulity over reporters "not getting" his obvious attempt to split hairs on Trump and Gorsuch made for several very awkward moments. Separately, Spicer mocked a reporter for questioning whether a tweet from the president was more important than a statement by his press secretary. He balked at reporters as they tried to ask follow-up questions — any follow-up questions.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 9, 2017
In short: Spicer was on the offensive, annoyed at those who got in his way and not afraid to make that clear to everyone. Unintentionally —I think! — Spicer seemed to be channeling Melissa McCarthy's impersonation of him over the weekend. He didn't actually pick up the podium and shove it in anyone's face but he sure seemed like he wanted to.
Spicer has never been a wilting flower behind the podium but, with the exception of his scolding of reporters on the first Saturday of the Trump presidency, he's generally been good-natured in his daily briefing. The change Thursday was somewhat striking. It was also yet more evidence that Spicer continues to try to find his way in the job even as his boss watches everything he does very, very closely.
Aggressive Spicer is likely to please Trump who, according to administration aides, has previously expressed disappointment with Spicer for not being a forceful enough advocate for him and his agenda. The problem for Spicer of course is that he really has two constituencies: Trump and the press who cover Trump. And while his tone Thursday probably brought a smile to Trump's face, it's the sort of performance that, if repeated, will sap some of the goodwill from the media that Spicer needs to do his job well.
This is the dilemma of every press secretary — please the boss or please reporters? — since the position was created. But Spicer's challenge is made even more difficult because Trump and some of his most senior advisers have made clear that he views the media as the opposition party. That makes treating the press with anything but total disdain a losing strategy for Spicer within the White House.
Maybe Aggressive Spicer is who we will see from now on. But anger — like all strong emotions — gets less effective the more you rely on it.