Sean Spicer made a lot of mistakes during his sixth-month tenure as White House press secretary. But one thing that may have led directly to his ultimate demise on Friday may have been entirely out of his control.
As CNN’s Jim Acosta put it shortly after the news broke Friday afternoon, “All we have to do is mention two words — Melissa McCarthy.”
“The White House press secretary is a TV job. If you can't do this job on television, you are not going to stay in the good graces of this president,” Acosta said. “Sean Spicer was raked over the coals publicly, culturally, as the press secretary and he was just not living up to Donald Trump TV standards.”
Melissa McCarthy made her first surprise appearance as Spicer on Saturday Night Live the first weekend of February, just two weeks after Trump took office. By that point, the country was well-aware of Spicer’s challenges as a spokesperson for the White House. In his very first briefing the day after the inauguration, he castigated the press for failing to inflate Trump’s crowd size and then left the room without taking any questions.
In her SNL debut, McCarthy instantly nailed Spicer’s unique combination of combative attitude and complete ineptitude as a spokesperson for Trump. “Before we begin, I know that myself and the press have gotten off to a rocky start,” she screamed at reporters. “In a sense, when I say rocky start, I mean it in the sense of Rocky the movie, because I came out here to punch you in the face! And also, I don’t talk so good.”
A couple of days later, Politico reported that Trump, a two-time SNL host turned vicious SNL critic, did not like the idea that a woman was playing one of his top aides. “Trump doesn’t like his people to look weak,” an unnamed Trump donor told them.
Spicer himself seemed to have a bit more of a sense of humor about the portrayal, saying McCarthy could “dial back” the impression a bit, adding, she “needs to slow down on the gum chewing; way too many pieces in there.” At the same time, he said he found Alec Baldwin’s impression of Trump too “mean.”
It could have been intended as a one-off, but McCarthy’s Spicer was so instantly popular with fans that she ended up coming back at least three more times, culminating in the episode that she hosted in May, by far the highest-rated of the show’s 42nd season with more than 10 million viewers. That final appearance came amidst rumors that Spicer was on the verge of being fired by Trump.
McCarthy’s Spicer appeared in the bushes outside of the White House briefing room to interrupt Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (played by Aidy Bryant) and take over the room once last time. The sketch ended with Spicer taking his podium out onto the streets of Manhattan in search of Trump as Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” played in the background.
“I can’t go back to the Navy!” Spicer shouted at the heavens. Finally when he found Baldwin’s Trump at one of his golf courses in New Jersey, the president went in for the kiss of death. “Wait, is this like The Godfather where you kiss me and no one ever sees me again?” he asked.
It was the perfect send-off for Spicer, even if it did come two months early. And it landed McCarthy an Emmy nomination she is almost guaranteed to win in September.
Rather than endear Spicer to America as Will Ferrell and Tina Fey managed to do for George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, respectively, in years past, McCarthy really only highlighted how terrible he was at his job. That on top of the fact that he was being played by a woman who at one point revealed herself to be wearing Ivanka Trump’s stilettos, maybe have just been too much for Trump to bear.
Interestingly enough, the other member of Trump’s cabinet played by a woman on SNL is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been portrayed by Kate McKinnon as a Forrest Gump-esque Southern idiot who somehow managed to assume one of the most powerful positions in the country.
Trump already threw Sessions under the bus this week. But unlike Spicer, he shows no signs of taking the high road out of the White House anytime soon.