“Sean got fatter,” said one White House staff person, chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, of another, besieged press secretary Sean Spicer. With no frills, no exculpatory phrasing, the comment, texted to a Buzzfeed reporter, was so Dada it quickly trended on Twitter with the possibility of becoming a useful excuse akin to Meryl Streep’s the dingo ate my baby. “So sorry to be late. Sean got fatter.”
But it’s so much more than three little words to explain Spicer’s near disappearance from the traditional daily press briefing. Yes, Spicer has outgrown some of his boxy suits and bought some better-fitting clothes. The Freshman 15 is nothing compared to the White House 30. People enter fit and roll out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue a few years later. But the reason for the anomalous incredible shrinking press secretary is that Trump wants to both starve the enemy of the people—even press releases are now uselessly “for planning purposes only”— while being his own communications director, which scares the Republican establishment as much as his tweeting. When Spicer is replaced, the change will be complete.
Still, “Sean got fatter” says less about reorganizing the press operation in Trump’s image than it does about the dysfunction of the White House. Forget for the moment the irony of Bannon, who could stand to lose a pound or two himself, making such a remark. And the supreme irony of the boss himself, who might not have seen pictures showing his golf swing hampered by his expanding girth. Trump’s standards apply to others, not himself. In his White House, as at his hotels and casinos, looks, and being thin, matter. He favors not the smartest or hardest working but those who look the part of a White House aide. Even Miss Universe didn’t stay thin enough for him. When Trump kept at Hillary Clinton’s health, that was a stand in for she’s old, overweight and not attractive enough to be president.
You’ll learn more from studying Bannon’s comment than from conducting a philosophical inquiry on the clash between clannish anarchists and establishment globalists in the West Wing. Bannon has figured out what works with Trump, and it’s not theoretical discussions, for which Trump has no patience.
Only Bannon knows how effective “Sean got fatter” could be as part of his plan to get rid of a competing power center—the Goldman Sachists and their sympathizers composed of Spicer’s mentor and chief of staff Reince Priebus. Bannon’s been on the receiving end of Trump’s disdain for his own appearance: the Kuhl cargo pants, his shirts, one on top of another none suitable for a tie; hair that could use a wash, a face that could use a shave. At first Trump joked about it but then his comments became more pointed, especially after Bannon made the cover of Time as “The Great Manipulator.”
Soon thereafter, an insider says, Bannon started showing up ever more presentable. The loose, droopy trousers that once caught on fire next to TV lights at a campaign event in New Hampshire gave way to pressed khakis and then to dress pants and then to one shirt at a time. By this month’s press conference announcing that Pittsburgh had won out over Paris on climate change, Bannon was dressing like the faction he’d vanquished, in a blue button down shirt, a tie, and dark suit. He’d won Trump’s sartorial approval, and ear.
You can scoff at something so shallow but one associate says that for Trump nearly everything is based on appearances. He’s always favored those whose style runs to Mad Men mixed with Palm Springs Rat Pack casual. As for women, beautiful and quiet is the norm which explains why Trump has given Celebrity Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault enough power to mess up an important meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus this week. He told Howard Stern he would date Ivanka she’s so pretty, if she weren’t his daughter. Now she has the second most powerful job in the White House after her Brooks Brother husband, Jared Kushner.
Just because he looked the part Mitt Romney got multiple interviews for the Secretary of State position despite his campaign speech condemning Trump and his famous crack that Trump’s three immigrant wives prove there’s work Americans won’t do. Rex Tillerson was the next best-looking guy to seek the job. Gov. Chris Christie once had the inside track to be vice president and while it’s true that Kushner didn’t want the prosecutor who put his father in jail on the ticket, Trump couldn’t picture someone as overweight as Gov. Chris Christie a heartbeat away. He picked the svelte Mike Pence who is the one guy in Washington who may spend as much time seeing that every hair is in place in the morning as the president does.
Trump’s shifting approval doesn’t lend itself to a set organization chart. Like kids playing soccer, everyone is always chasing the ball, which is him. For those maneuvering, it’s a battle every day to measure up to unstated standards so as not to be sent off the island, to be in the room, on the plane, or in the motorcade.
Just because he’s up now, Bannon knows, like much of the staff, he’s one disheveled day away from losing Trump’s favor. In the meantime, if he needs it to keep the globalists at bay, he’s got some more insults where Sean Got Fatter came from.