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Sarah Sanders' audience of one

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President Donald Trump tweeted that press secretary Sarah Sanders will be leaving the White House after more than three years of service.

Posted: Jun 13, 2019 2:38 PM
Updated: Jun 13, 2019 5:30 PM

Sarah Sanders will leave her job as White House press secretary at the end of June, President Donald Trump announced via Twitter on Thursday afternoon.

'She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job,' said Trump about Sanders.

That's debatable. What's less up for argument is that Sanders fundamentally changed the job of White House press secretary during her 23 months in the role. And not for the better.

Sanders replaced Sean Spicer in the job way back in July 2017. Spicer's tenure was, uh, rocky -- and for one very clear reason: He simply could not balance the desires of a President who demanded favorable coverage and a White House press corps committed to abiding by facts and not the spin provided by the administration. (Case in point: Spicer's fact-free assertion that more people attended Trump's inauguration than any other in history.)

What Sanders realized from the very start is that balancing between Trump and the media (and, by extension, the broader American public) wouldn't work. The way to stay in the job was to keep the President happy. Period.

So that's what she did. The President wasn't a fan of the daily press briefing. So, Sanders stopped doing it altogether. (On the day Trump announced she was leaving, Sanders hadn't done a daily press briefing in 94 straight days.) Trump didn't like admitting he, or anyone in his administration, had ever said something that was later proven to be false. So Sanders simply parroted the falsehoods pumped into the bloodstream by her boss. And on and on it went. Whatever Trump wanted, Sanders did.

It's very hard to describe how radical a shift that approach is -- for a job that had long been regarded as part partisan and part public trust. Spicer was not a good fit as press secretary. That's beyond reasonable doubt. But even he sought to find ways to work with reporters and get as much accurate information as he could out to the public. He gave it the old college try -- in the spirit of Mike McCurry, Dana Perino, Ari Fleischer and many others who have held the press secretary job in this modern era of cable TV and social media.

That's not to say all of those people had a warm and fuzzy relationship with the media -- or vice versa. That's not the job. It is to say, however, that all of those people tried to balance the public's right to know with their boss's policy and political interests. They failed at times. In some cases, often. But they also believed that a fundamental truth to the job was that they had two bosses: The President and the American public (as channeled through the White House press corps).

Sanders never even feigned a commitment to that two bosses idea. She served the President and no one else.

The Point: Sanders leaves the White House on great terms with her boss -- Trump pushed the idea of her running for governor of her home state of Arkansas when announcing her departure -- but with a legacy that will be rooted in an abandonment of a long-held core principle of who the White House press secretary actually works for.

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