What bothers Ari Fleischer about Sean Spicer

Trump's Risky Media Poker

Donald Trump believes he is in a "war against the media". If the new president remains so unpopular, he could lose.

Martin Kilian, Washington

Donald Trump's first weekend in office was so crazy that even some of his advisors were worried, the New York Times reported on Monday. "We are in a war with the media," the new president had announced. He lied boldly about the number of visitors to his inauguration on Friday, he also lied about a feud with the CIA, which he had verifiably instigated, but now denied. His spokesman Sean Spicer also lied when he first appeared in front of the press in the White House.

So does the «lying president» meet the «lying press»? Trump's war on the facts - offering "alternative facts", asserted his close advisor Kellyanne Conway - is reminiscent of the self-confident assertion of Karl Rove, George W. Bush's closest collaborator: You will create your "own reality" beyond the perception of the Media, Rove told journalist Ron Suskind in 2004.

The alternative reality of the Bush administration did not last long, which was caused by Hurricane Katrina and the disaster in Iraq: Bush left the White House in January 2009 as one of the most unpopular presidents in recent US history.

Trump's “war” against the media is also politically highly dangerous: no president in the past few decades has hosted his office in the same way and took up office with less approval from the governed than Donald Trump. Even Richard Nixon was more popular in January 1969 than Trump in January 2017. But Nixon got caught up in a tough war of attrition against the media that contributed to his forced resignation in August 1974.

So deep was the hostility to the media in Nixon's White House that even the assassination of columnist Jack Anderson was considered. "I am responsible for my own fate," said Nixon in his famous 1977 interview with David Frost. It wasn't entirely true because the press had helped.

Media: "We have to dig"

Anyone who watched the amazing show by Trump's mouthpiece Sean Spicer in the press room of the White House on Saturday had to think of Nixon's press spokesman Ron Ziegler. Unpopular and lonely, Ziegler went about his thankless job, representing the unpopular and lonely Nixon in front of journalists.

When Spicer repeated his boss's lie about the crowd at Trump's enlistment the previous day on Saturday, he was only doing what Trump had told him to do. "This is called a statement that comes directly from the president - and you know that the president is watching," said George W. Bush's press spokesman Ari Fleischer, explaining Spicer's dilemma.

For most of the US media, after Spicer's debut, it is clear that his press briefings are worthless. "We will not get any answers from Spicer, we will get answers by digging," responded Jessica Huseman from the respected investigative medium "ProPublica". There is enough to “dig into” Donald Trump, all the more so when Kelleyanne Conway announced at the weekend that the president would not publish his tax returns under any circumstances.

Risky attack on free trade

Anyone who breaks norms in this way needs quick political success. Perhaps they will, but it is not certain at all. Even Trump's attack on free trade and globalization, which he launched on Monday, is risky: "America First" may help some Trump voters in the interior and especially in the Midwest. But what about the dynamic coastal regions when US trading partners strike back?

Hillary Clinton won just 500 of around 3,100 American counties last November, but those 500 account for two-thirds of America's total economic output. Donald Trump will have a hard time convincing the people in these regions of his neo-mercantilism. And woe if Trump's popularity ratings do not rise sharply within his first year in office. The spirit of Richard Nixon will then hover over his presidency.

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