Imagine the job description for President Trump’s White House press secretary: Defend the president’s utterances at all costs, no matter how ridiculous or counterfactual; admit in the alternative that you don’t have the slightest idea what he’s thinking; get yelled at by the president when you stumble; be prepared to hide in the bushes and get mocked every week on “Saturday Night Live.”
Does this sound like conservative talk-radio host Laura Ingraham? While Ingraham can be as brutal and snarky as anyone on the right or left and as a trained lawyer and polemicist can hold her own in the daily joust with reporters, she’s been an independent operator accustomed to running her own show in her own way. That might not be a good fit for what we have come to expect in this particular job.
After a gradual retreat from the public eye, press secretary Sean Spicer is stepping away from the podium and moving into a more behind-the-scenes communications role, The Washington Post and other news organizations have reported. And as the White House seeks a replacement press secretary, the question is not only who else could do the job, but also who would be willing to take it.
Several possible candidates are being considered, The Post reported on Monday, including former Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell and Scott Reed, a senior political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But for many, the potential candidate who drew the most attention was Ingraham, a Fox News contributor and ardent Trump supporter to whom White House officials reached out in recent weeks about the position. The AP reported, however, that Ingraham is not likely to take the job if offered.
That wouldn’t be surprising. Many observers can’t imagine anyone, but particularly someone like Ingraham, being willing to put up with the job. This speaks volumes about the extent to which a highly visible position once considered a steppingstone to fame and perhaps fortune has evolved into everyone’s favorite punching bag.
Her wariness about working for the Trump administration, if true, puts her in good company. The Post’s Lisa Rein and Abby Phillip reported this week that many Republicans are turning down job offers in part because Trump’s “volatile temperament makes them nervous. They are asking headhunters if their reputations could suffer permanent damage.”
Yes, Ingraham, 54, has shown loyalty to Trump throughout his campaign and election, batting for him at the Republican National Convention and across her various media appearances. But she has also been unafraid to call him out and to speak frankly about his faults.
She would have to leave a highly lucrative job as an independent talking head in exchange for a job as Trump’s mouthpiece. And for many, that seems highly unlikely. In fact, the Associated Press reported Ingraham is not expected to take the job, and The Post reported earlier this month that Ingraham told officials she is more comfortable remaining outside the White House as a vocal Trump supporter across her various platforms.
While she can be a nasty slasher in the Trump tradition (she was called a “nativist hatemonger” in the Daily Kos), she is not about to be manipulated. Yet some of her conservative followers on social media are holding out hope that Ingraham might take her rapier rhetorical skills to the press room.
Many supporters point to her résumé: Ingraham, a former Ronald Reagan speechwriter and law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is described on her radio show’s website as “the most-listened-to-woman in America on political talk radio.” She is editor in chief and co-founder of the conservative website LifeZette.com and has written several books.
Ingraham’s aggressive style is marked by “rapid-fire pacing” and fluid, often funny banter, Rory O’Connor writes in his book “Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio.”
“Ingraham argues politics the way lawyers argue cases, as if there can be no possible interpretation other than her own,” O’Connor writes. “She is a class-A schmoozer who understands and exploits her verbal gifts to the fullest.”
Some on social media also wondered if the press secretary job would offer a high enough salary to attract Ingraham — who reportedly makes millions in income entirely on the basis of her reputation, which might be threatened in a Trump White House.
“You need to be able to lie with a straight face and not care about your reputation,” one person wrote on Twitter.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow, a vocal liberal critic of Trump, is no fan of Ingraham’s, he said on CNN Monday. He does not think Ingraham is much of an “honorable person,” he said.
But, “even if it’s Laura Ingraham,” Blow said, “Anybody stepping into this role has to already assume that you’re taking on the baggage of not being an honorable person because you have to go out and defend someone who’s lying,” he said.
But Ingraham has previously appeared willing to at least contemplate the idea, calling it a “privilege to even be considered.”
“I have known Donald Trump for a long time, and we have been friends for a long time, and I am looking forward to that conversation,” she said on “Fox & Friends” in December. “If your country calls you, if God opens that door, you have to seriously consider it. If I can really help, it is hard to say no to that. If I think I can help, which I think I could.”
Politico reported shortly after the election that Ingraham — then one of the potential contenders for Spicer’s job — was willing to accept the position but would request a bigger role in policy building and higher-level decision-making.
As press secretary, Ingraham would most likely share at least one trait with Spicer: disdain for mainstream media outlets.
In an interview with Politico, Ingraham commended “new media” outlets for dispersing theories about Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s private server.
“None of these things and others would have come to light without the New Media,” Ingraham said. “ABC, NBC, The Washington Post are worse than irrelevant. We now must make fun of them.”
During an impassioned speech at last summer’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ingraham pointed to the media box, saying “to all my friends up there in the press, you all know why in your heart Donald Trump won the Republican nomination. You know it.”
“You know why he won it?” she said. “Because he dared to call out the phonies, the frauds and the corruption that has gone unexposed and uncovered for too long.”
“Do your job,” Ingraham continued with a chuckle. “Doing your job is a novel concept.” Trump later tweeted at Ingraham in appreciation.
But Ingraham has on numerous occasions also criticized Trump’s actions. In March, when the president attacked the Republican Freedom Caucus in the House because it wouldn’t support the Republican health care bill, Ingraham said on Fox News it’s “really, really unhelpful to Donald Trump’s ultimate agenda to slam the very people who are going to be propping up” his policy goals.
“I don’t know where he thinks he’s gonna get his friends on those issues, unless he completely flips to become more of a Democrat,” she said.
She has also addressed Trump’s communication strategies, providing a window into which changes she might make if she were a member of the White House team.
On Fox News earlier this month she called out Trump’s use of social media, saying his tweets about the ongoing Russia investigation will not help him.
“I think that if I were giving people advice in the White House, I’d say you’re not going to win the investigation regarding James B. Comey in the press,” she said.
In May, she tweeted that fewer and shorter briefings, more message discipline and sharper “strategic planning of new initiatives” would all “help keep the focus on economy.” That same month she said Trump’s desire to cut back on press briefings was “part of this cat-mouse game.”
“Again, if you’ve known him for as long as we have, you’re used to this,” Ingraham said. “This is what he does with people. It’s a bit of a challenge.”
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