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Let's face it: Trump needs to fire Sean Spicer now

CNBC | Jake Novak | Tuesday, Apr 18, 2017

The top job priority of a White House Press Secretary is a lot like that of a physician: first, do no harm.

And considering the continuous harm Sean Spicer has been doing to the Trump administration since the inauguration, it's time for President Donald Trump to let him go.

To be fair, Spicer has perhaps the toughest job of any Press Secretary in White House history.

The news media continues its over-the-top anti-Trump coverage on a daily basis, and Spicer's chances of winning them over were never much more than nil.

But his combination of combative and sloppy behaviour is doing the impossible when it comes to that relationship: it's making it worse.

The latest example of Spicer's problems came this week when he made the ill-fated decision to compare Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to Adolf Hitler:

"We didn't use chemical weapons in World War II," he said.

"You had someone as despicable as Hitler didn't even sink to using chemical weapons."

He then tried to clarify his comments, further digging a hole for himself:

"When it comes to sarin gas, (Hitler) was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing," Spicer said. He also referred to concentration camps as "Holocaust centres."

The tone deaf and factually incorrect gaffe triggered a storm of anger and ridicule on Twitter, summed up by MSNBC anchor Lawrence O'Donnell:

on Twitter

But since this was a public relations disaster occurring in the midst of another massive p.r. fail, perhaps a tweet from the surprising source of Airbourne Toxic Event guitarist and frontman Mike Jollett really characterized the sentiment against Spicer the best way:

on Twitter

And as bad as this Hitler mistake was, it was just the latest problem after so many missteps since he took the job. It all started with his unnecessarily angry tirade about the size of the inauguration crowd.

It's true that there were media reports about how the number of spectators at the Trump inauguration was smaller than those who turned out for Barack Obama's first inaugural in 2009.

But Spicer made it worse by trying to refute those reports without the benefit of facts.

Even the Washington Post's fact checker Glenn Kessler gave Spicer the dreaded "Four Pinocchios" for the sum total of his statements on the inauguration.

The result was that the story of the unfavorable comparison lasted for weeks instead of hours, and more importantly, Spicer's credibility was shattered on day one.

When credibility goes, sometimes a spokesperson can make up for some of that with affability.

But Spicer has been combative from the start and even over the line, like when he actually told American Urban Radio Networks' correspondent April Ryan not to shake her head while he was speaking at one White House briefing.

"Spicer is vying for the role of the media's No.1 punching bag over Trump himself. Even the question of who's doing the better impersonation on Saturday Night Live is a toss up. Is it Alec Baldwin as President Trump or Melissa McCarthy as Spicer?"

All of this is happening when the public seems to be showing a logical desire for calm assurances from the White House.

The fact that Spicer's worst gaffe came during a briefing defending the US bombing of Syria was a case of the worst possible timing.

If the US does get involved in a more sustained or dangerous military engagement, can the White House really risk letting Spicer shoulder the burden of presenting a calming and unifying message to the public?

It's hard to even fathom.

Sure, the news media is being combative too and it should be challenged.

But it needs to be challenged more skillfully and tactfully.

Spicer isn't just adding to the animosity, he's committing perhaps the worse offence of a public relations professional by making himself the story.

Most good press secretaries in politics or public affairs experts in the private sector know that they can never outshine, for better or for worse, their bosses or their businesses.

That's why so many White House press secretaries of the past spoke in monotone, didn't look overly flashy, and generally made the daily press room briefings relatively boring.

It's a generally smart way to go in that line of work. And it's an easy rule to remember.

But Spicer is vying for the role of the media's No.1 punching bag over Trump himself.

Even the question of who's doing the better impersonation on Saturday Night Live is a toss up. Is it Alec Baldwin as President Trump or Melissa McCarthy as Spicer?

Getting that kind of pop culture notoriety from Spicer's position isn't easy.

And in this case, it's not leading to anti-Trump folks transferring their anger to someone other than Trump. Instead, it's just making the president look worse.

The best example actually comes from the right in the person of Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin.

Rubin has been one of President Trump's most virulent and enduring critics from the start.

But instead of being distracted in her anti-Trump fury by Spicer, she's using his flubs as ammunition against the president as she did with this recent comment:

... we've never had a president like Trump, one lacking in the desire to 'get it right' and to learn what he needs to know. In that regard Spicer is the perfect reflection of the Trump White House - its boorishness and its cluelessness, its willful ignorance and its disdain for alternative, reliable sources of facts.

And here's the biggest problem for Spicer: he simply isn't showing the smarts that it takes to do his job properly.

He's not shrewd enough to go for that more boring delivery, and he's not witty or engaging enough to win the crowd over with funny or erudite material either.

Those who think that no one could do a good job with President Trump in the White House are simply either too virulently anti-Trump or ignorant of what top level P.R. people do every day for private clients with much worse track records to defend.

And it's not that the people Spicer is facing in the press room are such great geniuses either, and they're far from being unbiased or fair when it comes to this White House.

But he's making them look like great sages in comparison.

Watching Spicer parry with the White House press corps every day is like watching a guy with a slingshot walk into a gun fight.

Those who think firing Spicer would somehow make President Trump look weak or too much like he's caving to liberal pressure need to think of the long game here.

Sure, dumping Spicer might make the White House look bad to some critics for a few days.

But the alternative is letting Spicer stick around and look bad for a few more years.

Mr. President, this is a no-brainer.

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