Maybe I’m too even-tempered or I play it too safe. But I think if I were in public service I would never, ever bring up Hitler.
Heck, I almost won’t mention him in private conversation. Because it never goes well. Either you unfairly impugn someone as being “just as bad” when they are not; or you accidentally give someone a pass for being “not as bad” when maybe they kind of are.
So you can imagine my surprise when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer invoked the Nazi boss’s name this week, lambasting the president of Syria for a savage attack on civilians by saying even Hitler didn’t “sink to using chemical weapons.”
In the face of the screaming fact that millions of people – primarily Jews – were gassed by the Nazi regime, Spicer’s statement was careless, wrong, and ridiculous. To his credit, he quickly acknowledged all that and strapped on a hair shirt, but once again the Trump White House was hoisted by its own petard.
In political terms, this was a particularly unfortunate mistake. After all, Spicer and his colleagues have practically made a cottage industry out of cleaning up after the president’s misstatements.
Time and again, President Trump has launched outrageously false claims, or loosed his cannons at underserving targets, or just tweeted something wacky, sending his defenders scrambling for rhetorical mops and buckets. You’d think that would make Spicer – the main man in the bucket brigade – a little more cautious.
Strangely, Spicer’s misstep came after what is roundly being hailed as a militarily solid move by the president. Whether you support it or not, the missile attack on Syria to punish the Assad regime was timely, limited, and accompanied by surprisingly muted rhetoric from Mr. Trump.
I can well imagine after months of ridicule from their opponents, some of the White Housers went home feeling, if not happy – at least satisfied that they’d handled a grave matter in a grownup way that even mainstream DC could respect.
Then this came along.
So Sean, forget about World War II. Leave Hitler in the history books. Because I’ve said it before and it still runs true: the worst enemy most White House teams face is themselves.