After White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’ resignation was announced last month, I predicted that her replacement would almost certainly be just as bad. Sanders frequently lied and viciously attacked the press throughout her tenure. But those attributes, I wrote, should be seen less as particular character flaws than job requirements for the position under President Donald Trump, whose mendacity demands such behavior from his supporters.
It didn’t take long for Sanders’ successor, Stephanie Grisham, to prove the point.
Trump suggested in a virulently racist Sunday tweetstorm that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” then “come back and show us how it is done.”
The tweets were indicative of the president’s racist, distorted view of U.S. citizenship as well as factually inaccurate. The remarks triggered a firestorm throughout the day on Monday as the media grappled with whether to describe them as racist, Democrats and some Republicans denounced the comments, other Republicans stood by the president, Trump doubled and tripled down on his comments, and the four congresswomen condemned his actions.
On Monday afternoon, Grisham issued her first public response.
Grisham sanded off the most obviously bigoted portions of Trump’s actual comments, took the portions that she perhaps wished he had actually said, presented the result as his actual comments, and slammed the media for reporting on what the president had really said instead. In short, when confronted with the president’s bigotry and lies, she lied and attacked the press, just as Sanders and Sanders’ predecessor Sean Spicer did before her.
Grisham’s response is part of a broader effort by the president’s supporters to sanitize Trump’s tweets and repackage them in a way that supports the themes of his reelection campaign. His campaign’s rapid response director, Matt Wolking, led the way by claiming that “anyone who says the president told members of Congress to go back to where they came from is lying,” even though Trump actually said just that. He also repeatedly criticized journalists for purportedly “using selective quotes and not telling the whole story.”
Meanwhile, top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway’s defense involved asking a reporter his ethnicity at the White House on Tuesday:
To defend Trump, his aides need to lie to the public and delegitimize the press so that it is less effective at pointing out those lies. The problem isn’t the personnel; it’s the president.