Anthony Scaramucci's Empty Feud With Reince Priebus

The new White House communications director’s profane rant at a reporter shows how similar to the president he really is.

Anthony Scaramucci surrounded by reporters
Yuri Gripas / Reuters

White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci has been called President Trump’s “mini-me.” In his phone call Wednesday night to New Yorker reporter  Ryan Lizza, he proved it.

Like Trump, Scaramucci was venomous and crude. (“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” he told Lizza.) Like Trump, Scaramucci showed disdain for the prerogatives of a free press. (“Who leaked that to you?” he asked about a White House dinner Lizza had disclosed. “You’re an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.”) Like Trump, Scaramucci was factually inaccurate. (He told Lizza that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had committed “a felony” by leaking the financial disclosure form that Scaramucci filed upon entering the Trump administration. But the Politico reporter who wrote about the form said there was no leak. The form was publicly available). And like Trump, Scaramucci responded to the furor he had caused by blaming someone else. Lizza, he implied, had done something wrong by writing up an on the record conversation with a top White House aide.

But perhaps most significantly, Scaramucci—like Trump—did all this in service of his own ego and power. He was serving no purpose larger than himself.

White House feuds are nothing new. What makes Scaramucci’s with Priebus unusual is not only its openness and viciousness but it’s emptiness. From the arms control-enamored Cyrus Vance versus the cold warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski in the 1970s, to the liberal George Stephanopoulos versus the triangulator Dick Morris in the 1990s, to the Iraq War skeptic Colin Powell versus the Iraq War enthusiast Dick Cheney in the 2000s, the great White House rows of past decades have usually contained some ideological component. Adversaries have battled not only to advance themselves but to advance a policy agenda. Not this time. What does Scaramucci, or for that matter Priebus, believe about the kind of health-care system that should replace Obamacare? Or about trade or immigration or NATO or Syria? Even full time White House watchers have no idea.

There are people in the Trump administration with ideological commitments: Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, H.R. McMaster. But Scaramucci isn’t one of them. He fancies himself a Trump loyalist, a man battling advisors like Priebus who are trying to prevent Trump from following his own convictions. But until recently, Scaramucci himself disagreed with the ideological convictions that most defined Trump’s presidential campaign: He opposed the border wall, called Islam a religion of peace, urged a hard line against Russia, supported gun control and acknowledged climate change.

In the 1980s, the White House officials who wanted to “let Reagan be Reagan” were committed conservatives convinced Reagan was one of them. Now Scaramucci is using a version of that same rallying cry—“let Trump be Trump”—except he has no long-standing commitment to Trump’s nationalist-nativist ideology. And that too makes him like Trump, who only embraced the ideology recently himself.

The offenses that threw Scaramucci into a rage—the leaking of a White House dinner he attended, the discovery of his financial disclosure form—have nothing to do with policy. They bear only on the power and reputation of Anthony Scaramucci.

Scaramucci’s phone call with Lizza was an epic exercise in narcissism. At the climactic moment in the quest to repeal Obamacare—one of the most important battles in the history of the American welfare state—the man Trump has hired to overhaul White House communications strategy was communicating at deafening pitch not about health care or any other subject that actually affects ordinary Americans, but about himself. Mini-me indeed.