WASHINGTON â€” An accidental foray into Holocaust revisionism was merely the capstone to an edifice of error erected this week by the spokesman for Donald Trump’s White House.
It was the eye-popping assertion about Adolf Hitler that got all the attention: Sean Spicer suggested the Nazi leader had never used chemical weapons, apparently overlooking agents like hydrogen cyanide, used to murder millions.
Spicer quickly corrected himself â€” he issued several statements, called a famous Jewish donor to the Republican party to smooth things over, and went on a televised apology tour.
But other brain cramps the day before the Nazi flub, and in the hours after, illustrate why speculation about Spicer’s career life expectancy has become something of a pastime in official Washington.
Consider his first attempt to apologize for the Hitler oversight: it was riddled with errors. He messed up the name of Syria’s strongman, calling him, “Ashad,” and then referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust centres.”
He then went on TV and said he wanted to focus on what really matters: Trump’s work to “destabilize” the Middle East.
By the way, Assad isn’t the first leader whose name he’s messed up. He appeared to call Canada’s prime minister Joe Trudeau. And twice, his marble-mouthed version of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sounded something like “Trumble.”
The reference to Joe Trudeau wasn’t his only eyebrow-scrunching foray into Canadian affairs: Spicer also appeared to use the Quebec City mosque attack as an argument for Trump’s travel ban â€” a shooting allegedly committed by a homegrown hater of Muslims.
Other flubs have been more serious.
Take the one he apparently made just this week, the day before the Hitlerian mixup. Spicer appeared to massively increase the odds of all-out war between the U.S. and Syria â€” then walked it back.
He suggested from the White House podium that the use of barrel bombs by Syrian President Bashar Assad could provoke an American attack, just like chemical weapons. As one Trump-loving radio host pointed out, that probably means war.
Laura Ingraham expressed frustration with Spicer.
“We’ll be bombing Assad every day,” she said, before turning on the spokesman: “You see how the communications is important here? You have to actually have to be on the same page as the facts and the substance and the logic.”
To White House critics, the basic problem is there is neither logic nor substance.
That’s the view of former spokespeople for Canadian prime ministers. One former aide to Paul Martin said Spicer is in an impossible position â€” and made it worse by failing to stand up to Trump on Day 1.
On the first day of his presidency, Trump fumed about coverage of the size of his inauguration crowd. He sent Spicer out to make inflated claims about the crowd, making him an instant object of media mockery and a hit on “Saturday Night Live.”
“Sean Spicer has made a thorough mess of an impossible job,” said Scott Reid, a former Martin adviser.
“He understands that what (his) boss (says) is often absurd, embarrassing and utterly invented… By refusing to stand up to his boss on Day 1, he condemned himself to being a nervous, awkward lie-merchant. Not exactly a recipe for success.”
Andrew MacDougall, a former spokesman for Stephen Harper, called it sheer stupidity to take a communications job for someone who lies so frequently: “(Spicer) is the author of his own misfortune.”
Within days of entering the White House, there were already reports Trump was thinking of sacking his spokesman. Anonymous sources yapped about how the boss was displeased with Spicer â€” his performance, his suit lapel, his tie knot.
The president, meanwhile, is watching â€” and Spicer knows it.
A New York Times profile said those behind his “Saturday Night Live” sendup miss a fundamental fact: He’s not angry, he’s nervous, performing for someone who insists millions of illegal voters kept him from winning the popular vote.
In fact, the actual Spicer is a nice guy, says one peer.
As the first reports surfaced that he was in danger of being axed â€” this was two weeks into the new administration â€” one person who came to Spicer’s defence was the former spokesman for the Democratic party.
Ex-Democratic spokesman Brad Woodhouse said of the family man, former Navy man, and ex-spokesman for the U.S. trade czar and Republican party: “He’s a good egg. He’s someone who I think is a really decent and good person.”
Should Spicer survive, here’s some career advice from someone else tossed out of Trump’s inner circle â€” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was Trump’s transition team leader before being sacked.
“Don’t bring up Hitler. Ever,” Christie told Fox News. “There’s no winning in bringing up Hitler.”
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press