There are gaffes and there are “Even Hitler didn’t gas his own people,” gaffes.
From “alternative facts,” to record setting inaugural numbers that didn’t occur to budget directors thumbing their nose at the poor and the Third World, the current presidential administration has been nothing if not amusing in a Machiavellian way.
But Tuesday Sean Spicer found the “Hitler didn’t gas his own people,” moment.
Kind of like when Fonzie jumped the shark tank.
Actually it was more like watching a man strip naked, wrap a raw steak around his waist and jump into a shark feeding frenzy.
Oddly enough, even as you watched it happen, you just knew there was no way to stop it. Unfolding in slow motion before your eyes not 15 feet from you, a man was dissolving into his own words as he tried to paint the leader of Syria as more gruesome than Hitler – a statement if it had been simply made would’ve played far better than the purple prose Spicer attempted to offer on the fly.
Spontaneity and purple prose have served Spicer better in the past than in this situation – one where he was trying overly hard to stress how the Trump administration cares for the Syrian victims of a gas attack conducted by the Syrian government. This follows Monday’s briefing where I got the first question and asked bluntly, “How come it is okay to bomb Syria, but not help out Syrian refugees?”
Spicer stumbled with an answer then and he stumbled over Syria worse on Tuesday.
It was a bit of a surprise because Spicer has recently served the President adequately on other issues.
The way he handled the Russian scandal has helped more than anything else to take some of the heat off of the President.
But maybe the dance is starting to wear Spicer down.
Watching him do this, you get the feeling Spicer impresses himself with his own work from time to time – but not in a selfish way. He’s more impressed because he knows he’s hit a home run for his boss. Spicer simply suffers from the old Babe Ruth syndrome – he’s always swinging for the rafters.
His batting average is getting better, but his strikeouts remain spectacular.
The guy doesn’t do anything small. You got to give him that.
So watching him Tuesday as he stumbled, bleeding and unsure if his raw meat swimming trunks were ready for the dive, you still weren’t sure what would come next.
Then that moment came when he said “Even Hitler didn’t gas his own people.”
First silence. Then groans. No one dared say a word. It was too much. No one dared breathe. Clocks stopped. Paint peeled. Mouths dropped. What could you say? No one could think of anything as Spicer stumbled on.
Okay. I shot off my mouth.
“He gassed the Jews,” I shouted in the press room.
Spicer sputtered. “Thank you. Yeah, yeah I know,” or words to that effect as he stumbled before going on.
That was the highlight. The inaccurate holocaust references and a few other minor gaffes as he headed to the Holocaust Center were just aftershocks.
It makes for a great story. It’s almost an episode of the West Wing.
But how important was the story?
On the same day as Spicer’s monumental gaffe the press received two briefings on the ongoing strife in Syria – one at the Pentagon and one at the White House.
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney made another dapper appearance in the West Wing selling his latest budget cuts and a historic executive branch realignment – which may or may not work and may or may not be passed by Congress.
His proposed budget cuts could decimate the economy in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County Maryland – it’s just an added bonus those counties vote heavily democratic.
Given a chance to clean up some of the remarks he’d made previously regarding after school lunch programs for the poor, Mulvaney tried to walk back some of the statements but still came off like Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi – “No Food For You!” when it comes to the poor.
Sorry. Actually Mulvaney reminds me of a real believer – of anything he can sell.
Meanwhile North Korea is rattling on with its usual empty threats. Turns out Spicer’s best moment in the press briefing was not the corny joke about the annual Easter egg hunt at the White House, (prudence dictates I do not repeat it here) but his best moment was in response to a reporter asking about potential threats from North Korea. Spicer replied it ain’t a threat if you can’t do it.
I think he could’ve sold it better with a John Wayne voice, but that’s just me.
As for the gaffe; Spicer has apologized. It's apparently over. Okay, some in Congress are calling for his head. He might go down. He might not. The story extends for another news cycle. Millions will now watch Spicer do his imitation of John Belushi's Animal House speech (You know when the 'German's bombed Pearl Harbor - forget it he's rolling').
Once again we have all been diverted from what is real to chase the prurient and salacious.
Did Spicer commit a gaffe – and an incredibly stupid gaffe at that?
Absolutely. Making it during Passover? Priceless.
But the story of the moment is merely a momentary story.
War in the Middle East, the budget, Russian interference in our election, North Korean and Chinese relations, another school shooting, Syrian airstrikes, the Supreme Court, healthcare, tax cuts, and whether or not the Redskins sign Kirk Cousins – those stories are all more important than Spicer’s gaffe as he tried to use hyperbole to sell how horrified everyone in the administration is about the Syrian gas attack.
But boy does Spicer’s gaffe – seen live and recorded for all posterity – play better on television for the briefest of shallow moments.