To most observers, President Trumpâs first overseas trip was either a moderate success that was at times overshadowed by viral GIFs or a disaster that damaged the United Statesâ relationships with longtime European allies.
But as Trump and his aides tell it, this was the most successful, most historic, most well-received foreign trip ever embarked on by a U.S. president.
âIt truly was an extraordinary week for America and our people,â White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday afternoon as he kicked off a gushing recap to reporters that lasted roughly nine minutes and featured the word âhistoricâ a half-dozen times.
Spicer channeled his boss as he declared that Trumpâs speech to leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations âwas a historic turning point that people will be talking about for years to comeâ and âwas met with nearly universal praise.â He claimed that the president single-handedly âunited the civilized world in the fight against terrorism and extremismâ and that his meetings at the Group of Seven summit in Sicily âwere marked by outstanding success.â
âWeâve never seen before at this point in a presidency such sweeping reassurance of American interests and the inauguration of a foreign policy strategy designed to bring back the world from growing dangers and perpetual disasters brought on by years of failed leadership,â Spicer said.
Trumpâs aides often exaggerate on his behalf â such as when Spicer insisted in January that the presidentâs inauguration crowd was the largest ever â but Tuesdayâs monologue seemed to venture into new territory for even the Trump administration.
Spicerâs press room paean to his boss prompted rounds of mocking and alarm on Twitter and from cable-news pundits, some of whom compared this breathless praise to North Korean propaganda promoting the Dear Leader.
But Spicer isnât the only White House staffer lavishing praise on Trump.
Over the weekend, White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn â who was the second-in-command at Goldman Sachs before joining the White House â declared the presidentâs economic development deal with Saudi Arabia to be unlike anything he had seen in his 30 years in business. And Hope Hicks defended the president against accusations that he demeans his staff, issuing a lengthy statement for The Washington Post that read, in part: âPresident Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him. He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people. .â.â. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor.â
It is no secret that the president has been unhappy with his media operation â communications director Mike Dubke announced Tuesday that he is stepping down, and there are reports that Spicerâs role could soon be reduced â and these Trumpian comments seem to indicate that his staff is now directly passing along the presidentâs thoughts without any vetting or editing.
âUltimately, the best messenger is the president himself,â Spicer said at the briefing. âHeâs always proven that he is the best messenger â not just for what he wants to articulate, but that the American people resoundingly chose him as their president because he understands the frustrations and concerns and values of the American people. And he is probably the best person to communicate that.â
But this approach often forces aides to make outlandish claims that simply draw attention to the weak points of Trumpâs trip or time in office instead of the highlights, said Mike Murphy, a longtime GOP consultant who ran the political action committee for Jeb Bushâs failed presidential campaign. He compared the exaggerations to North Korean propaganda.
âItâs insecure, over-the-top,â Murphy said. âI call it Great Leader-esque.â
Tommy Vietor, who was a spokesman for President Barack Obama, said former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs once gave him this advice: âThe first rule of spin is that it has to be believable.â
The claims coming from Trumpâs spokespeople just are not, and saying the words out loud makes Spicer, and others, âlook like an idiot,â Vietor said.
âItâs baffling, because it doesnât convince anyone. It doesnât serve anyone to insist that black is white, that down is up, or that Donald Trump is this warm and fuzzy guy,â Vietor said, referring to Hicksâs statement. âI mean, his tag Âline is: âYouâre fired.âÂ â
Spicerâs deference to the president continued as he took questions from reporters on Tuesday.
On the search for a new FBI director, Spicer said: âThe president is the ultimate decision-maker. When he makes a decision as to who he believes is best to lead the FBI, he will let us know.â
On concerns that the relationship with Germany has become strained, as expressed in Chancellor Angela Merkelâs remarks suggesting that Europe cannot rely as much on the United States as it once did: âI think the relationship that the president has had with Merkel, he would describe as fairly unbelievable. They get along very well.â
On whether the president has been meeting with lawyers to discuss the investigation into ties between his campaign and Russia: âThe president has a lot of meetings. If the president has a decision on anything, weâll be sure to let you know.â
On the presidentâs position on climate change: âI canât say. I havenât asked him. I can get back to you. I donât know. I honestly havenât asked him that specific question.â
As the discussion shifted to how Trump is communicating with the country, the press secretary insisted that the president is âvery pleased with the work of his staffâ and denounced âfake news.â
This brought protests from reporters seeking examples of âfake newsâ and a back-and-forth with Spicer that seemed to leave no one in the room satisfied.
âThe reason that the president is frustrated is because thereâs a perpetuation of false narratives, a use of unnamed sources over and over again about things that are happening that donât ultimately happen,â Spicer said, âand I think that is troubling.â
He then ended the briefing.