A contrite Sean Spicer ditched his usual defiance Wednesday and asked the public to forgive him for remarks a day earlier in which he credited Adolf Hitler with refraining from using chemical weapons during World War II.
“I made a mistake,” the White House press secretary said during an appearance at the Newseum in Washington, where he was interviewed by MSNBC's Greta Van Susteren. “There’s no other way to say it. Got into a topic that I shouldn’t have, and I screwed up. ... To make a gaffe like this is inexcusable and reprehensible.”
Hitler, of course, used poison gas to kill millions of Jews and others in concentration camps. Spicer initially attempted a series of clarifications Tuesday, saying he was referring to “the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers.” He had invoked Hitler during Tuesday's press briefing to emphasize the depravity of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons last week.
Spicer made no excuses or clarifications Wednesday, however. He said he felt especially badly because Jews are celebrating Passover this week.
“It’s painful to myself to know that I did something like that,” he said.
This kind of humility is strikingly uncharacteristic of the Trump White House in general, and Spicer in particular. This is the man who, during the campaign, concocted the truly absurd “My Little Pony” defense of Melania Trump's plagiarism. This is the man who made his debut as press secretary by making false claims about the Inauguration Day crowd, ripped the media for covering the crowd accurately, then made one excuse after another when confronted in the next briefing.
The Team Trump playbook almost always seems to call for an attack in response to a mistake.
“I fully think apologizing is a great thing, but you have to be wrong,” Trump told “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon during the campaign. “I will absolutely apologize sometime in the distant future if I’m ever wrong.”
Spicer, because of his job, is often charged with executing Trump's strategy. When the president tweeted a false claim about the number of prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay under the Obama administration, for example, Spicer refused to acknowledge the error.
“I mean, obviously the president meant in totality the number that had been released on the battlefield — that have been released from Gitmo since — individuals have been released,” Spicer said in a briefing, hours after Trump had tweeted. “So that is correct.”
This is the default White House position: Trump is never wrong. It's just that sometimes the stupid media doesn't understand what he “obviously” means.
Spicer is presumably just following orders when he adopts this attitude, but he certainly has not endeared himself to journalists. The Sean Spicer who showed up to the Newseum on Wednesday was practically unrecognizable — and far more likely earn the respect of reporters.