It was always too easy to hate Sean Spicer. From the inauguration onward, he was the most constantly visible representative of Trumpism, a symbol of the administration’s mixed messaging (so is it a travel ban?) and of its Orwellian dumb-plexity (“Sometimes we can disagree with the facts”). Here was an oddly ageless man built like a Bullet Bill, a silo body slanting towards tired eyes. And, when you most expected it, he would downplay Hitler’s Hitler-ism, surely 2017’s most awful trend.
But you didn’t need to be an outraged Democrat to loathe the man. For here, too, was a political lifer with a résumé built from committees: House Government Reform, National Republican Congressional, House Budget, grand old Republican National. It’s the CV of a politician, which is the sort of person one tends to find in politics. But surely half-to-all of Trump’s appeal was that whole swamp-draining outsider pose. So who is this dull functionary, and what is he doing in my beautiful dark wall-building third-wife montage-from-Scarface twisted fantasy? Not long into Spicer’s tenure, rumors circulated that the boss was unhappy with his performance. So no one thought Spicer he would last, and then he did not.
Now for the next act. Spicer went on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Wednesday, precise reasoning unclear. Maybe, like fellow castoff Steve Bannon, Spicer has an eye on his brand identity. Like him or hate him, he’s the second most well-known Press Secretary in recent American history. (CJ Cregg is more beloved, but not real.) Or maybe, like Anthony Scaramucci, he just loves the attention.
The interview was a fine showcase for Kimmel, who came on genial and casually lured Spicer into amusing paradoxes. Spicer was cycling through old talking points. When he was talking about disagreeing with facts, you see, “You can look at one set of facts and come out with one opinion… while the facts are the same here, I come out with a different conclusion.”
He started to discuss economic models, but Kimmel decided to test Spicer’s theory. “I’m sitting on a horse right now,” said Kimmel, sitting on a chair that was not a horse.
“Well, you’re not,” Spicer said.
“Right,” Kimmel laughed. “Exactly!” Spicer laughed too, maybe recognizing that there are limits to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, or maybe just knowing that the pace of a late-night interview demands a topic-reset after a big laugh line.
And this was the pace of the interview. Spicer would play the good soldier. Trump’s tweeting? “That was one of the president’s most effective tools on the campaign. He continues to utilize it… there is no one who is working harder than him.” Within the minute, he’d be castigating journalists for how “they go on Twitter or on other social media and start to perpetuate myths.”
Kimmel: “How about the president?”
The host had a point to make, though. Was it dangerous for Spicer and his colleagues to accuse so many journalists of peddling fake news, of delegitimizing the press? Spicer circled back to his big idea, that some journalists or institutions (he named no names, had no actual examples) rush to publication or publish untrue stories. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he concluded.
“So,” said Kimmel, thinking fast but looking cool as an old country lawyer, “When you say there were ‘two wrongs,’ you mean Donald Trump, the President, was wrong.”
“No, I didn’t say that,” said Spicer. And then he smiled and audibly laughed, “HEH.” Spicer was quick with his laughs, and you could interpret that as some pent-up amusement at his miserable position. Or maybe he was genuinely happy. How grand, to be here on a late-night comedy show! Who cares if they’re making fun of you? They make fun of everyone. They make fun of Matt Damon.
Conservative or liberal, DC hacks love Hollywood, the celebrities, the money, the glamour. Maybe not all celebrities all the time, but Romney couldn’t turn down Eastwood, and if Dwayne Johnson ever becomes a Republican again I’m guessing Elizabeth Warren will still watch Ballers. Politicians love TV shows that tear them apart, House of Cards and Veep, because how wonderful to seem so dark, so depraved, so funny; how nice it is to be seen. This, more than anything, is what makes thin-skinned Trump such an outsider in Washington. (It wasn’t always thus: A little over a year ago, before facts went alternative, Trump sat next to Kimmel, too, smiling at the right times and avoiding the right questions.)
And so Spicer could moan like a sitcom character about therapy bills, but he also had a laugh about Melissa McCarthy’s supernova impression of him. “And she wins an Emmy!” he marveled. Toward the end of the interview, Kimmel and Spicer discussed a 10-year-old photo of the two of them. “I didn’t know about this,” Kimmel admitted, “And you sent it to me.”
The photo is cute sans context, tremendously sad given everything. Spicer’s in his dress whites, looking happy and proud, maybe a fan from way back in the Win Ben Stein’s Money days, or maybe he just knows Kimmel is somebody famous. Kimmel, pre-beard and pre-treadmill desk, is looking far away, maybe even posing for another camera. Celebrities meet regular people all the time. Sometimes, a decade passes, and the regular person becomes the public face of an administration that made a moral equivalency between white supremacists and people protesting white supremacy.
And then that regular person gets fired and begins the long downslope back to obscurity. Spicer suggested he might write a book, but not a tell-all, just a “tell,” snooze. There were two commercial breaks in the long interview, and both times, Spicer pulled out his phone to take a selfie, once with Kimmel and once with trusty sidekick Guillermo Rodriguez. The mighty have fallen, you say? Ten years later, Spicer finally got Kimmel to look at the camera. Why shouldn’t Sean Spicer be happy? At least someone’s life is getting better.