Scaramucci Does the Fandango
I have what I am sure will be an unpopular theory about Anthony Scaramucci, and it is this: that Anthony Scaramucci actually knows what he’s doing. And if I am right about this — and I very much believe that I am — it’s actually far more troubling than the already-troubling, more popular narrative that he’s a complete idiot who has no idea what he’s doing.
But before I let my counter-intuitive, contrarian, Bizarro-World-Scott-Adams freak flag fly, allow me to give some background for those who have not been watching the Scaramucci story unfold over the past week.
Last week it was announced that President Trump had hired ex-Goldman Sachs financier and Fox News host Anthony Scaramucci to be the White House Communications Director. It was an especially odd choice, even for an administration marked by odd choices; consequently it raised more than a few eyebrows. Odder still was that Scaramucci appeared to have been granted full Chief-of-Staff powers and responsibilities by the President, despite the fact that the White House had an actual Chief of Staff (Reince Priebus).
Scaramucci’s primary footprint on the world up until recently has been that of a poor man’s Tony Robbins, authoring books with titles such as Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole: How Entrepreneurs Turn Failure Into Success and Goodbye Gordon Gekko: How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul. A few years ago, he used the assets of his investment firm, Sky Bridge Capital, to acquire the rights to the TV show Wall Street Week, a vanity project which allowed him to hire himself as its host. If there was a cliched caricature that readily fit Scaramucci over the years, it was probably Guy Who Really, Really Wants to Be Famous.
Prior to Trump’s inauguration, Scaramucci had been nominated to the low-level office of Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs — a position ostensibly charged with interfacing with lobbyists supportive of whoever is in the White House. That nomination was unceremoniously and quickly rescinded; by all accounts it was Priebus himself who scuttled the offer. Rumors for why Priebus might have done this range from worries that Scaramucci’s brash and tone-deaf style might alienate the President’s special interest allies, to concerns that Scaramucci was little more than an intellectual lightweight with really nice hair, to Scaramucci’s constant public insulting of candidate Trump right until the moment when it appeared Trump might win.
But as head-scratching as the idea of hiring of Scaramucci to essentially be White House Chief of Staff might have been, it’s nothing compared to the Scaramucci’s own actions over the past week since accepting the position, which have been nothing less than bizarre.
How bizarre, you ask?
Immediately after Scaramucci’s hiring was announced, many reporters began noting that he had a long history of disparaging Donald Trump. On Fox, to take one example, he called Trump an “Anti-American” “hack,” dismissing him as “an inherited money dude from Queens County” who was so awful a candidate and human being that he was likely “a Democratic plant for Hilary Clinton.” While he could not do much about video records that Fox held the rights to, he could and did systematically delete his own tweets saying similar things about the Donald. When this deleting was reported, he quickly claimed he had not in fact deleted anything, apparently unaware that screen shots and archiving exist. Then, when faced with proof that he was deleting tweets, he shifted his narrative and claimed — bizarrely — that he was deleting them out of a sense of full transparency.
It got worse.
Politico reviewed Scaramucci’s financial disclosure form, and discovered that his sale of Sky Bridge Capital, necessary to work as a White House staffer, was structured in such a way that he would continue to be paid profits during his tenure as Communications Director. Scaramucci went on air and said that the disclosure form was leaked by an enemy within the White House, and that such a leak was a felony. In fact, his disclosure form was obtained by Politico from the Office of Government Ethics, and — like all other White House disclosure forms — is available to any US citizen who requests it. 1 Later, in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union, he alluded to a anonymous expert on Russian intelligence Donald Trump trusted, who Scaramucci said could not name — and then a minute later spilled the beans that the anonymous expert of Russia that Donald Trump trusted was in fact Donald Trump. He also spent the week announcing staffers firings on CNN and Fox, without ever bothering to inform the staffers he was firing on national television.
Then, with the weekend approaching, Scaramucci did two interviews with the press that made many wonder if the new White House Communications Director might be in waaaaay over his head.
The first was with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, whom Scaramucci called out of the blue. Lizza has tweeted a background-sourced comment that Scaramucci, Trump, Sean Hannity, and former Fox News exec Bill Shine were having dinner. As anonymous sourced insights into power go, it was pretty damn tepid, a nothing-burger that would have been public record hours later anyway. Still, Scaramucci was incensed, and demanded Lizza give up his source, oddly threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff if Lizza didn’t confess that it was Priebus. Other personal highlights from that interview: Scaramucci called Priebus “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic” who was “cock-blocking” him,” explained that Steve Bannon “suck[s] his own cock,” claimed that the FBI and the DOJ were investigating his enemies to get dirt on them at his request, and, perhaps worst of all, apparently refers to himself in the third person as “the Mooch.”
That unscheduled interview was followed up by a 27-minute humdinger the next morning on CNN’s New Day with Chris Cuomo. Seemingly damage control over the then-published account of Lizza;s interview, Scaramucci called in to the show unprompted to set the record straight. He then went wildly back and forth between claiming that he and Priebus were brothers of the soul whose love knew no bounds, to insisting that Priebus was essentially a back-stabbing rat-fucker whose ruin would come by Scaramucci’s own hands. He claimed his “buddies” in the FBI were helping him scare the “knee knockers” in the White House that were out to get him. He seemed confused that Cuomo was not on his side, as they were both Italian-Americans.
I could go on, but I won’t. The truth about both interviews is that there is simply no way I can do them justice. To understand why so many people believe Scaramucci is either unfit for his office, mentally unhinged, shockingly paranoid, a narcissistic-personality-disorder-level pathological liar, or some combination of all of the above, you really need to read the whole New Yorker piece and watch the whole CNN interview. If you take the time to do both, you’ll see why people think these things about Anthony Scaramucci.
But here’s the thing: I don’t actually think he’s any of those things.
I think Anthony Scaramucci is really, really intuitive. Moreover, I think Anthony Scaramucci is the first White House staffer who truly understands the President as a person, who inwardly fully accepts and acknowledges Trump’s temperament rather than makes self-deceiving excuses for it, and who has figured out how to best harness both of those things for his own personal gain. And to be clear: if I’m right, it’s actually worse than if everyone else is.
To explain, let me start off by making a claim — one that seems obvious to me, but that I have not seen reported or speculated on by anyone else covering this story: When Anthony Scaramucci talks to the press or does television interviews, he isn’t really talking to the press or the television audience. He isn’t really talking to the American People. He’s really just talking directly to one person and one person only: President Donald J. Trump.
One of the assumptions made by everyone after Lizza published his New Yorker piece was that Scaramucci was such a neophyte that he didn’t understand that if one wants comments to be off the record one has to explicitly state that. Why else would have have said such things? This theory was buttressed by a Tweet from the WH Com Director lamenting, “I made a mistake trusting in a reporter. It won’t happen again.” But this morning the New Yorker clarified that Scaramucci had requested upfront that certain parts of his interview be off the record, and that the New Yorker honored that request. Scaramucci, in other words, had known at the time that what he was saying was going to be quoted, and, one had to assume, wanted to be quoted.
Why? Because he was telling Donald Trump both exactly what Donald Trump wanted to hear, and exactly what Anthony Scaramucci wanted Donald Trump to believe.
Listen to the CNN interview. Scaramucci says over and over again that his relationship with Trump isn’t a professional one and that he doesn’t think of Trump as a boss. He and Trump, Scaramucci says over and over for half an hour, are good friends. Great friends. The kind of friends who don’t care about what the other does or says, because they are just buddy-buddy friends, now and forever. It’s a creepy, bizarre, and entirely inappropriate thing for a White House staffer to say about most Presidents. But Donald Trump isn’t most Presidents. He’s known for having both a thin skin and a demand for unreturned, toadying loyalty from his underlings. And he’s incredibly credulous about it, which is why he bought hook, line, and sinker Scaramucci’s explanation for his trashing Trump, despite the fact that the timeline of said trashing clearly proves that explanation wrong. This also explains why Scaramucci goes off the deep end in both interviews with effusive praise for the President. Trump isn’t just a man of good judgement and temperament, but one of historical levels of those very qualities. Trump isn’t just smart, he may be the smartest person ever of all time.
There are, too, Scaramucci’s ever-repeating insistences that anyone in the White House who does not support Scaramucci is a secretly an enemy of Trump, working only to destroy the President and his legacy. In addition, there is the repeated claim by Scaramucci that when he is alone with the President, he isn’t being a yes-man to Trump but rather bravely telling Trump the Truth he needs to hear, damn the consequences. Which is an odd thing to keep saying unprompted in an interview where no one is asking what Scaramucci is saying to Trump in private, and where everything else Scaramucci is saying just so happen to agree with and/or flatter the President.
There is also this: If you google videos of Anthony Scaramucci talking on camera in years past, he has an extremely polished speaking style. It’s fluid, almost silky, underscoring his carefully cultivated Poor-Man’s-Tony-Robbins image. But when you listen to Scaramucci on the CNN interview, his speech had changed dramatically in almost every way. He has a different rhythm, a different vocabulary, a different way of emphasizing points. When I was first listening to the CNN piece, I wondered if he might be nervous. (I certainly would be, if I’d been quoted saying things like he had in the New Yorker.) But after a few minutes it hit me, and I realized that I actually did recognize this new rhythm, this stilted vocabulary, this oddly chaotic structure of response. Anthony Scaramucci didn’t sound different because he was nervous. He sounded different because he was mirroring exactly the speaking style of Donald Trump.
Anthony Scaramucci thinks he can control the White House by being a more efficient and effective toady than anyone else in the building. And he’s likely 100% correct.
After covering the campaign, I’ve made two points repeatedly to friends who ask what I think is going on in the White House on any given day. The first, initially universally denied but now universally accepted by the White House and the GOP, was that most of the anonymous “government officials” being quoted in the press would eventually be discovered to have been Trump-hired White House staffers, not old Obama hires in other agencies. This is because Trump, for whatever reasons, seems to value highly both toadying and backstabbing among his underlings even when it damages his brand, and richly rewards such behavior. The second point is that you really have to take all “leaked” comments from the White House with a large grain of salt, even if that leak tells you something damaging about Trump, Bannon, Spicer, or whoever that confirms your low opinion of them. Every leak might well be true; it might also just be a way of “leaking” something entirely fabricated in order to stick a knife in a rival and move up half a notch in the Trump-toadying hierarchy.
That someone like Anthony Scaramucci was going to come along and take advantage of this dysfunction wasn’t just possible; it was inevitable. And if I’m right, the attempts by career people like Priebus to be a steadying influence on White House policy are about to be tossed out like so much dirty bathwater, to be replaced by someone whose sole ambition, as best I can tell, is to personally enrich themselves at the expense of the country by encouraging the President of the United States to do the same.
Mark my words: we are going to miss Reince Priebus.