Kayleigh McEnany has held the position of White House Press Secretary for a little less than two months, yet has managed to quickly make a name for herself — perhaps an inevitable consequence of taking up such a senior position in the midst of a global pandemic.
Irrespective of your personal politics, it’s hard to argue that McEnany isn’t Trump’s most effective Press Secretary yet — especially when compared to her predecessors, like gaffe-prone Sean Spicer, or Stephanie Grisham and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders; both of whom were known for the infrequency at which they held press conferences.
McEnany is clearly a smart political operator. A Harvard graduate — who interned for the likes of Adam Putnam and President George Bush while in college — she came to prominence in her late-20s, as a conservative CNN commentator. Despite expressing initial scepticism towards the now-President, McEnany showed prescient political instincts that others lacked; quickly getting aboard the ‘Trump train’.
As important as it is to remove Trump from office, it’s even more important to address the root causes that got him there in the first place
When watching McEnany give a press conference, it’s easy to see how she rose so quickly through the political ranks — she comes across as calm and level headed and is just a good public speaker in general. Compared to the perpetual angst of Sean Spicer or the rambling incoherence of Trump, McEnany is confident; comfortably spinning the President’s words, while carefully selecting statistics and anecdotes to back up her arguments. Perhaps she “infuriates liberals” because she also scares them.
While I doubt that McEnany is as supportive of the President in private as she is in public, she does expose an uncomfortable truth; Trump may be bad, but he could be worse. Trump’s unparalleled incompetence does present unique risks of it’s own; especially on issues surrounding national security — the number one, most important issue for any President. However, Trump’s buffoonery has also proven, at times, to be a surprising silver lining in an otherwise terrifying presidency. His lack of political skill has prevented him from passing key elements of his agenda, like ACA Repeal and the construction of a border wall. The President’s character (or lack there of) has also made him an easy target for criticism and has contributed heavily towards his poor approval rating as well as to Biden’s poll lead. If Trump is defeated in 2020, it will be because of his poor character and lack of political skill.
Kayleigh McEnany, however, presents an unnerving glimpse into what it would be like to combine Trump’s damaging policies and worldview with the oratorical skills of a good political operator; creating a horrifying hybrid that could deliver on Trump’s worst desires.
Trump’s own lack of political prowess hampers his ability to gain the same power and authority held by the authoritarians he admires
Now, as a disclaimer, I doubt McEnany will ever be President, and if she was, I suspect she would govern more as a generic, pre-Trump era Republican than she would govern as a populist firebrand reminiscent of the current President. However, there are many people who could conceivably take on the mantel of being a ‘respectable Trump’ — Senators Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley spring to mind. If they do ever become President, we might finally get an answer to the questions, ‘what if Trump was better at being an authoritarian?’ and ‘What would happen if you combined Trump’s strongman instincts, with a savvy, experienced political operator who knew how to manipulate the levers of power to consolidate his or her own power and suppress opposing voices?’
It’s still unclear who would fill that role (though, there’s multiple Republicans who could be potential candidates) and — with any luck — such a politician will never assume the highest office in the land. But if they did, America could be in store for a lot worse than what they’ve experienced under the Trump administration. Trump’s own lack of political prowess hampers his ability to gain the same power and authority held by the authoritarians he admires. Yet, even in spite of this, Trump has still been able to destroy countless democratic norms and fundamentally undermine the fabric of American democracy. As important as it is to remove Trump from office, it’s even more important to address the root causes that got him there in the first place, so that voters never again feel tempted to elect a wannabe-strongman.