President Trump, like most of the rest of the country, watched comedian Melissa McCarthy's vicious takedown of White House press secretary Sean Spicer on this past week's “Saturday Night Live.” And he wasn't happy. Not because of how Spicer was portrayed — as a hectoring know-it-all — but reportedly because the actor who was impersonating Spicer was female.
This, from Politico, is eye-popping:
More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer’s portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president’s eyes, according to sources close to him. And the unflattering sendup by a female comedian was not considered helpful for Spicer’s longevity in the grueling, high-profile job, where he has struggled to strike the right balance between representing an administration that considers the media the “opposition party,” and developing a functional relationship with the press.“Trump doesn't like his people to look weak,” added a top Trump donor.
Okay. Now go back and read those two paragraphs again.
So, the fact that “Saturday Night Live” chose a woman to play Spicer was Trump's biggest problem with the sketch. And, according to a major Trump donor, that's because a woman playing a man makes Spicer look weak. (That idea deserves its own blog post, or maybe book.) Spicer's long-term viability in the job could also be affected by the impression, which (a) he had nothing to do with and (b) he had zero control or influence over.
This isn't the first time that Spicer has come under Trump's withering glare for not measuring up. This comes from an Axios report: “Unfortunately for Spicer, Trump is obsessed with his press secretary's performance art. Our Jonathan Swan hears that Trump hasn't been impressed with how Spicer dresses, once asking an aide: 'Doesn't the guy own a dark suit?'”
In any past presidency, such a focused view on appearance — or, more accurately, a willingness to be so looks-obsessed in public — would be remarkable. Not so in the Trump White House, where, if we've learned anything over the past two weeks, it's that appearances matter more than anything else to this president. He picked a Cabinet, in part, based on whether they looked like the best and the brightest. He fought a factually empty argument for days over how big (or small) the crowd was at his inauguration. He ran the announcement of his Supreme Court selection like an episode of “The Apprentice.”
The line running through almost everything that Trump has done in his early days in the White House is appearances. He is someone who has been consumed by the look of things for his entire adult life. A creature of the New York tabloid press, Trump always spent time crafting his own image — sometimes using a nom de plume to sell himself as a much-coveted playboy. Trump's second act — as a reality TV star — only cemented his belief that appearances and perception were the most important things to master. Trump as the hard-assed boss — with an occasional heart of gold — was the image being sold on “The Apprentice.” And people ate it up.
It's no surprise then — or it shouldn't be any surprise — that Trump's main takeaway from “Saturday Night Live” was not the show's sendup of Spicer's poor treatment of reporters or his bullying tactics but rather the fact that a woman was impersonating the press secretary rather than a man.
Trump's obsession with appearances — and how it affects staff and policy decisions — is a central narrative of his White House. Spicer has now twice found himself on the wrong end of this particular worldview. One wonders how many more chances he'll get.