Full credit, I suppose, to Kayleigh McEnany.
Six months after being appointed Donald Trump’s White House press secretary, she still has a spring in her step, some vigor in her manner, and a willingness to trade sharp elbows with reporters as she sets about defending the indefensible. All the more credit, given she is now spokesperson for a lame duck administration.
None of what she does benefits the American people. But that has never been the job of any of Trump’s press secretaries. Their task is to sip the Kool-Aid, or whatever may be the preferred 2020 version — disinfectant, perhaps — and go and do battle for the president. Oftentimes, they are performing for just one viewer.
Yet McEnany’s appearance on Friday felt striking, even given the remarkable scenes we now witness on a seemingly daily basis: Rudy Giuliani mopping his brow and dabbing at leaking hair dye as he blames Venezuelans for Joe Biden’s victory, Mike Pence’s fantasies about turning the corner on Covid (true only if he means turning the corner signposted “250,000 Deaths”), Trump’s blatant efforts even this late in the day to try and erode the Constitution he and his supporters claim to hold so dear.
First, McEnany spoke of the news that Pfizer was set to seek FDA permission to start using its Covid vaccine, the development of which she claimed was the work of Trump.
“So many American lives will be saved, thanks to President Trump and the great work of Operation Warp Speed,” she said, failing to mention the 11.7 million Americans who have been infected, or the 253,000 who have died.
Many critics of the president say at least some of those lives may have been saved had the president taken the virus more seriously, led a nationwide plan to halt its spread, and done something as simple as to encourage mask-wearing.
Next up, McEnany was asked about Giuliani’s wild press conference in which he and lawyer Sidney Powell claimed “massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba and likely China" interfered with the election.
McEnany — who was previously cirticised for speaking both on behalf of the White House and the Trump campaign — sought to suggest the question was not really for her, but added: “The president’s been very clear — he wants every legal vote to be counted, and to make sure no illegal votes are counted.”
There was time for no more than a half-a-dozen questions in the fifteen minutes McEnany devoted to her first press conference since the beginning of October.
One was from Chanel Rion, a journalist for One America News Network (OANN), a right-wing pro-Trump site that has an affection for paeans to the president and conspiracy theories. (Trump often tweets his support for the channel these days, saying it is fair more fair than Fox News, which he now considers an enemy.)
Rion claimed that “contrary to the court of media opinion”, there was widespread evidence of “vast” irregularity during the election, something officials from both parties say is not true. Why, she wanted to know, had the White House not called in the FBI?
Of surprise to nobody, McEnany was ready with her answer, which quickly segued into a defiant soliloquy about Trump’s own transition and how everyone had been against him from the start.
At the every end, Kaitlan Collins of CNN tried to ask a question, but McEnany snapped at her: “I don’t take questions from activists." Collins’ colleagues were quick to defend on her Twitter, but she did not really need their help, telling McEnany she was not an activist and that “that's not doing your job, your taxpayer-funded job”.
What to make of all this noise and nonsense and dishonesty, as America prepares for a winter in which the Covid death toll is likely to soar even higher? Was this what it was like 50 years ago during the “Five O’Clock Follies”, when generals in Vietnam would lie to journalists about America’s “progress” against the Viet Cong, as the bodycount ticked up and up?
In short, it all felt very desperate, very wretched — the final acts of a widely discredited administration. It is likely something we will not have to listen to for very much longer.