Critic's Notebook: "The Mooch" Is the Newest Star of Summer's Most Toxic Reality TV Show
From Anthony Scaramucci's potty mouth to John McCain's dramatic vote, Sarah Huckabee Sanders' story hour to Trump's Jeff Sessions obsession, the hate-watch of the summer is in full swing.
Summer is traditionally the season when the networks largely abandon scripted programming to concentrate on reality shows. But their offerings pale in comparison to the current reality show taking place in Washington, with the White House and Congress in a dead heat for which can produce the most drama. Cliffhangers? Check. Pivotal votes? Check. Colorful characters? Not only check, but thanks to the newest arrival, White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, checkmate.
Cable news aficionados can be forgiven if they're feeling a bit fatigued these days. Just last night they had to stay up to the wee hours as the GOP-dominated Congress fitfully stumbled over their health care bill. It was the latest of a series of attempts so misbegotten and absurd that they've managed to do what the Democrats never could — drum up popular support for the Affordable Care Act. Even Trump supporters have suddenly realized it isn't so bad after all.
Last night's episode of the seemingly never-ending saga was the most powerful of all. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington feels like a documentary compared to the spectacle of Sen. John McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer and still sporting the scar from his surgery, making a dramatic return to Washington. First, he lectured his colleagues about how badly they're failing the country. Then he voted in favor of a bill he had just railed against. Finally, he shocked everyone by joining moderate Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski in seemingly defeating the bill for good. (Except, as we've come to realize over the last few months, you can't kill this thing without silver bullets and a crucifix.)
As if aware that every good reality show needs some laughs, Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a letter to the president at a recent press conference. It was from Dylan, a 9-year-old boy, nicknamed "Pickle," who said that Trump was his favorite president and that his birthday cake was in the shape of Trump's hat (sorry to have it break it to you, Dylan, but that's actually his hair). Dylan also asked the president how much money he has, but he'll have to wait until Robert Mueller forces Trump to release his tax returns to find out.
Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway, the Goldie Hawn of this Laugh-In administration, has made a few appearances. Yesterday, on such unbiased shows as Fox & Friends and Hannity, she decried the "hoops you have to jump through" to satisfy that pesky Office of Government Ethics. She also lamented that her colleagues at the White House were "using the press to shiv each other in the ribs," although, to be fair, Scaramucci would probably be happy to eliminate the middle man.
That shrinking violet Donald Trump Jr. recently turned down the opportunity to appear on camera before a Senate committee, instead cutting a deal to be interviewed privately. The same was true of Jared Kushner — though that's understandable (have you heard him speak?). But we're bound to hear from both of them in future episodes of As the Beltway Turns.
And then there's our president, and I use the term loosely, who still seems to think that he's hosting The Apprentice. The internal White House struggles have been going on since Trump took office. But they've reached a fever pitch recently, with the former reality television star even reprising his trademark "You're fired!" catchphrase to comically (presumably — one never knows) threaten Health Secretary Tom Price if the health care bill failed to pass. Trump did this at, of all places, the Boy Scout Jamboree.
Since Trump appears to believe that running the country involves little more than tweeting things he's heard on Fox & Friends, he's had ample time recently to double down on his threats. His constant tweetstorm humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has actually managed to make the immigrant- and marijuana-hating Southerner seem sympathetic. It seems Trump isn’t going to fire Sessions, but rather badger him incessantly until he quits on his own. Forget The Apprentice; this has the makings of an all-new, high-concept game show in which contestants are subjected to social-media torture until they break. It should prove particularly popular among teenagers.
Then there's poor Sean Spicer (a phrase I never thought I'd use). The hapless press secretary's fate was sealed when Melissa McCarthy began playing him to devastating comic effect on Saturday Night Live. That the person portraying Spicer was a woman was the final straw for Trump, who derides weakness above all else. Spicer "resigned" after Scaramucci was hired, but the writing was already on the wall. Now, if we can only persuade Lorne Michaels to ditch Alec Baldwin and hire an actress to play Trump, we may not have to worry about POTUS running for re-election.
Of course, for sheer obnoxiousness, no one compares to Scaramucci. Spicer at least had the decency to look suitably pained while delivering bald-faced lies on behalf of the president. Scaramucci spews them out with a relish that would make Joseph Goebbels blush. If he was going to be on a reality show, it would be Jersey Shore.
The profane, gel-haired financier, whose nickname is "The Mooch" (you can't make this stuff up), has already been labeled Trump's Mini-Me. A communications director who seems to equate communicating with making obscene threats, he began honing his obnoxious act with a series of testosterone-drenched appearances on Sunday morning political shows, in which he threatened to kill White House leakers. He then gave a jaw-dropping interview to the New Yorker, in which he described Reince Priebus as a "fucking paranoid schizophrenic" and declared, "I'm not Steve Bannon. I'm not trying to suck my own cock." (The latter comment was particularly egregious since the act to which Scaramucci was referring requires extreme flexibility, not a trait associated with Bannon.) The statements were so remarkable that even the normally staid New York Times felt obligated to print them in full.
Scaramucci, who Trump seems to enjoy wielding as his personal weapon of mass destruction, clearly had his target set on Priebus, whose fate was sealed in the latest episode of Survivor: White House Edition. Friday afternoon, Trump ousted Priebus and named Gen. John F. Kelly the new White House chief of staff. Priebus will hopefully have the opportunity to form a support group including Sessions, Spicer, Sally Yates, Preet Bharara and James Comey, among many others. Now that would make for great reality television!