Which job opening will be filled first: chief executive of Wells Fargo, or White House press secretary?
The Wells Fargo job has been open since March, when embattled CEO Timothy Sloan stepped down as head of the country’s fourth-largest bank. It offers a seven-figure salary, a schweet office in downtown San Francisco, free checking and perks galore, plus a severance package — what’s not to like?
Quite a bit, evidently. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that two of Wells’ top candidates have turned the bank down, and a third is balking. The bank has been clouded by the miasma of scandal for several years, dating back to revelations in 2016 that it surreptitiously signed customers up for accounts they had not sought. The shock waves have now claimed the tenures of two Wells CEOs.
Nevertheless, it’s a job that rational bank executives would still consider attractive, if challenging.
By contrast, what rational person would consider taking Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ job as President Trump’s spokesperson? There are more red flags waving here than at a Chinese Communist Party parade.
(If you have it handy, consider spinning the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” while you read the next few paragraphs.)
One of the first considerations in taking any new job is the workplace environment, especially the tone set by the person who would be your immediate supervisor. But the White House communications office has been a dumpster fire, going through six communications directors in a little more than two years. Anthony Scaramucci lasted all of 11 days in that role. No one has held the job since Bill Shine left in March.
The bigger issue, though, is the daily crossfire between the president and the White House press corps. The former is a reckless and hyperbolic speaker, salting his statements of fact and policy liberally with misstatements, misdirections and flat-out lies. The latter, which is by nature adversarial, has been breathtakingly antipathetic towards Trump, sometimes embarrassingly so.
Who in their right mind would want to get in the middle of that? I don’t see anything wrong with Sanders being combative with the press — that’s something her boss evidently relishes, and it’s hardly unprecedented. But Trump also demands loyalty, and my colleague Scott Martelle noted the cost to Sanders: By vigorously defending even the most whack-a-doodle statements from Trump, she came to be viewed as just as untrustworthy as the president.
Meanwhile, it’s been impossible for anyone in Trump’s communications shop to fulfill their No. 1 task, which is to control the message coming out of the White House.
The problem starts with the president’s habit of jumping on Twitter during “executive time” and holding forth on whatever flits across his consciousness (which seems curiously in sync with the day’s programming on “Fox & Friends”). Add to that Trump’s willingness to take questions from the press multiple times per week during informal gaggles (a habit that should have endeared him to a press corps stiff-armed by a standoffish President Obama), which, while admirable, undermines the effort to focus the public’s attention on the policy initiative or narrative du jour. Then throw in the insane amount of leaks coming out of this White House, and you’re left with an endless succession of revelations and rumors to be confirmed, denied, tamped down or damage-controlled.