She strides onto the podium with great confidence holding her binder of — what? They are bits of free-floating information that she matches with a reporter’s query in a game of high-wire Mad Libs. She believes that a fusillade of data points and exaggerations is a perfectly fine way to not answer a question.
McEnany is Trumpism delivered with a smiling, telegenic unruffled aplomb at a time when there’s very little to smile about and quite a lot to be ruffled by. She is the picture-perfect face in an administration filled with funhouse mirrors. Everything is great. Everything is fine. She is the duck gliding across the water while her colleagues paddle furiously below the surface.
On Thursday, McEnany walks into the briefing room in her standard uniform: a sleeveless sheath, this one purple, with a little cross hanging around her neck, and lush TV-ready eyelashes. After a quick greeting to reporters, she briefly relinquishes the lectern to the room’s guests, who speak on the fresh news of the day: The White House has brokered an agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Senior adviser Jared Kushner and national security adviser Robert O’Brien offer remarks, praise the president’s leadership, muse about the Nobel Peace Prize and promise that an official White House signing ceremony is in the not-too-distant future.
O’Brien is the white-haired guy in a suit. Kushner is the ghostly presence. Listening to O’Brien, Kushner stands immobile with his arms dangling at his sides. His fingers don’t move; they don’t even twitch. They hang awkwardly, resting against a body with a stillness that belies the human need to breathe. When Kushner speaks about the significant international development, his hands take flight, moving through the air in a slow-motion, gentle pantomime. His expression doesn’t change as he talks of serious concerns. But he does laugh at a reporter’s question even though it wasn’t remotely funny. Otherwise, his brow never furrows. His face is as unperturbed as a shimmering lake.
When the questions turn to economic relief, the apparition and O’Brien depart and McEnany is back in her usual place, pointing her manicured finger at various reporters as a signal to lob their questions. In response to an inquiry about the administration reimbursing states for the deployment of the National Guard, McEnany notes, “The president supports the men and women of the National Guard.”
When asked why it’s such a problem for regular Americans to vote by mail when McEnany herself did so, she says, “I vote by absentee,” as if to suggest that her absentee ballot was delivered by carrier pigeon. And she makes sure to use “Democrat” as an adjective, as a pejorative — just like the president. It’s a way of signaling to people that she’s speaking of the opposition party — those terrible, awful public servants who want to do terrible things to good and righteous Republicans — and not the founding principles of this country.
In her most recent usage, she accused the president’s antagonists of a proposal that would, among other things, make “ballot harvesting mainstream”: “It was a Democrat wish list,” she exclaimed.
It’s a petty tic that must surely set every grammarian’s teeth on edge.
The current presidential flack is a far cry from Trump’s first. Sean Spicer was not out of central casting. He was more than willing to paint the precise word-pictures that the president desired, beginning by inflating the size of Trump inauguration crowd, but he did so looking a fright. Spicer’s gray suit was so terribly ill-fitting and poorly constructed that it became a synecdoche for the sad-sack man himself. Spicer was not a smooth talker; he tended to stumble over his words. During briefings, he had the anxious expression of someone trying to talk his way out of a lousy situation.
The upgrade was the short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci. He had the glamour for the big stage — the product-enhanced hair, the tailored suits, the swaggering patois — but he did not know when to stop talking. He vented to a reporter on the record and ultimately blah-blah-blahed himself out of a job.
Sarah Sanders was his successor. In her public appearances, she was disdain and impatience draped in an A-line dress and pearls. Then along came Stephanie Grisham. If a press secretary doesn’t do regular press briefings, does she even exist?
And finally, McEnany. She has an impeccable presence. She dresses in the style that mirrors that of so many television anchors. Her aesthetic blurs the line between news gatherers and this news spinner. She’s the president’s personal afternoon broadcaster. Believe her, not the dutiful folks who sit politely waiting to be recognized. McEnany is constantly aware of cameras — rarely grimacing, frowning or allowing her face to settle into any expression other than a pleasant one, even if her words are unsettling. She is the face of a White House whose singular message is: Everything is great. Everything is fine.
McEnany is out there telling the president’s story in the manner he prefers. It looks terrific on TV.