— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) January 30, 2017
To hear Sean Spicer tell it, President Trump is the rough equivalent of an action-movie hero who had to cut the red wire before a ticking time bomb exploded.
“There was a very short period of time in which we had something to execute that ensured that the people of the United States were safe,” the White House press secretary said on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” on Monday.
Spicer was, of course, talking about the travel order Trump signed on Friday that caused mass confusion over the weekend, as airports moved to enforce a temporary ban on entry into the United States for migrants from seven mostly Muslim countries and refugees from around the world.
Border agents — and even members of the president's own team — seemed uncertain of the scope. Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said on NBC's “Meet the Press” Sunday that green-card holders would not be affected, but Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said they would be scrutinized and readmitted — or not — on a “case by case” basis.
Couldn't the White House have maybe explained things a little better? Gotten everyone on the same page?
There was no time, according to Spicer. “What happened if we didn't act and somebody was killed?” he said. That rationale led to this exchange with New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters, who was on the “Morning Joe” panel:
PETERS: Was there an imminent threat? I mean, that's what you seem to be implying. But there was no imminent threat.
SPICER: No, no, no. But what I'm saying is, what I'm going to tell you is, if something had happened and your answer would have been, “Well, if you guys had acted quicker, we could have saved that person.” Too many of these cases that have happened — whether you're talking about San Bernardino, Atlanta — they've happened ...
PETERS: Did you have information that something like that was going to happen?
SPICER: Do you wait until you do? The answer is you act now to protect the future.
By Spicer's own admission, there was no ticking time bomb — none that Action Hero Trump knew about, anyway. But the White House's message seems to be that Americans should feel like a countdown clock is always approaching zero and that it is best to just start cutting wires. Right now.
From a media relations standpoint, there is a real benefit to making people feel this way: Whenever reporters ask why the president took a certain action, Spicer's fallback response can be that someone could have died.
Fear is a powerful tool. And the White House is using it to try to avoid giving a real explanation for why this action was necessary.