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Farewell, the Mooch. It was fun while it lasted

How are things in your country? In mine, we’ve spent the last week and a half being governed by a mid-aughts buddy comedy named ‘Donald and The Mooch’. That latter sobriquet belongs to Anthony Scaramucci, Donald Trump’s erstwhile PR man who went on a 10-day profanity-laden bender across Washington proper before even the President realised this probably wasn’t a good idea and headed off to Vegas without him. Scaramucci was sacked on Monday. His official start date wasn’t until mid-August, which makes him the shortest-serving White House comms director in history at negative 15 days.

Yet he made quite an impression during his non-tenure. The Mooch was given his job following the resignation of White House press secretary Sean Spicer, hated by every scribbler in D.C. except for me, and there was profound hope among journalists that he’d be a stabilising influence. That wishful thinking originated at his first press conference, where he came off as a bit unctuous, but nonetheless conciliatory, serious, ready to mend fences with Trump’s media foes. And then, with that out of the way, he promptly embarked on a scorched-earth campaign against both the White House staff and the press, arbitrarily phoning up reporters and regaling them with down-homey Long Island adages such as ‘f—k that guy’. He managed to come off as even more Donald Trump than Donald Trump.

Two episodes in particular qualify for The Mooch’s highlight reel. The first was when he called New Yorker journalist Ryan Lizza after Lizza sent a fairly innocuous tweet reporting that Scaramucci was having dinner with Trump and Fox News personality Sean Hannity. ‘Who leaked that to you?’ Mooch barked, before suggesting he might fire the entire White House communications staff, calling then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus a ‘f—king paranoid schizophrenic’, and declaring that he wanted to ‘f—king kill all the leakers’. He said all this without ever qualifying it as off-the-record, a rather glaring oversight for the President’s liaison to the press, and after Lizza predictably published their exchange, The Mooch promised on Twitter to ‘refrain’ in the future from using ‘colourful language’, and then seemed to shift blame onto Lizza by saying he’d ‘made a mistake in trusting a reporter’.


Whew.

The second episode was when Scaramucci called into CNN for an interview with anchor Chris Cuomo. This was notable because it was effectively The Mooch interviewing himself. ‘You’re from New York, I’m from New York, the president is from New York’, Scaramucci said to Cuomo. The two then proceeded for half an hour—mostly The Mooch but with some interjection—in that peculiar specie of repartee that New Yorkers sometimes lapse into in which much is said yet nothing is said at all. The only takeaway was that The Mooch compared his relationship with Priebus to Cain and Abel, a portent of the Old Testament justice to come. And then it was back into the word salad, crunching on the croutons of administrative threats, savouring the smooth dressing of complex sentences. The man can talk, I’ll give him that.

The Mooch is uniquely American. He’s an onomatopoeia-festooned bond salesman from Bonfire of the Vanities, a ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ trader thrusting obscenely towards his phone, a veteran of what David Remnick calls ‘the jokescape of eighties and nineties New York‘. He’s a type—sometimes lovable—but inevitably going to nettle a certain other type. Enter General John Kelly, Trump’s newest chief of staff after Priebus finally took the hint and resigned. It’s difficult to imagine two less alike men. Scaramucci is pure Empire State; Kelly is a phlegmatic Bostonian with the accent to boot. Scaramucci is a flashy former investment banker; Kelly is a Marine Corps veteran. Scaramucci gestures and preens; Kelly has one of those bulletproof countenances that can stare down a tsunami without flinching.

Sure enough, one business day after Kelly accepted his new job, Scaramucci was out. The Mooch was unceremoniously escorted from the White House under orders from Trump who, for all his bluster, despises firing subordinates in person. It’s that aversion to management that Kelly will now have to reverse. He does seem like exactly what Trump needs, a dash of martial law in an administration ravaged by street fights. Already the President has stopped tweeting criticism of his own attorney general, so that’s something. Meanwhile, the White House on Monday unveiled new sanctions on Venezuela’s authoritarian government, well-calibrated and timely, a credit to the President’s team. It’s a reminder that good policy can make it through this White House if the psychodrama is kept at bay.

Scaramucci, meanwhile, has lost everything: his job, his reputation, his transparent political aspirations—the same tragedy arc traveled by so many Trump staffers only in time-lapse photography. Even his wife reportedly filed for divorce, fed up with his insatiable ambitions. A Harvard Law School graduate, he’ll bounce back, and in the meantime his intervening vacation will stimulate the tabloid headline sector of our economy (‘MOOCH HITS THE HOOCH!’ ‘MOOCH LOOKING LOUCHE!’). It’s worth remembering that Scaramucci’s essential critique is correct: Priebus’s management style was much too loose and the endless leaks have bred palace intrigue that’s been both cut-throat and paralysing. My guess? The Mooch will be back before the end of the year as one of Fox News’s more bearable contributors.

Matt Purple is the deputy editor for Rare Politics


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