In the midst of a global health crisis, civil unrest, and one of the highest rates of joblessness in recent history, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany is attempting to forcibly redirect the narrative by choosing to place her focus on defending President Donald Trump’s tweets. In recent press conferences, McEnany has included a smattering of Twitter analysis, ranging from why Native Americans would be offended if the Redskins changed their name to criticizing those who chose to boycott Goya after its CEO Robert Unanue publicly praised Trump. Now, it seems the newest in the succession line of White House press secretaries during Trump's tenure is living up to the president's desire to distract and redirect attention.
The pattern of McEnany's effort to reframe press conferences is now a storied one. But the tradition of this in practice predates the former political commentator. Americans have grown all-too-familiar with the system of declarations from our current president over the course of his tenure: Trump tweets something, the news covers it, and the standing Press Secretary must spin, clarify, deny, or do whatever they can to make Trump’s tweets fit into a larger narrative. However, McEnany has taken a different approach by just fully leaning into Trump’s tweets, often doubling down on the president's outlandish statements rather than attempting to diffuse them.
Last week, Trump tweeted about the football team the Washington Redskins and baseball team the Cleveland Indians changing their names. “They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness,” he tweeted adding that Native Americans must be “very angry” from the news. He also said that they were only changing their names to be “politically correct.”
"Now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct. Indians, like Elizabeth Warren, must be very angry right now!" Trump wrote.
The backlash from this tweet was swift, and advocates were critical of the president for speaking out against the voluntary name changes. One week later, McEnany took to the podium for a briefing, and rather than address questions about the election or the pandemic, she reiterated Trump’s tweet verbatim, even citing a study saying that Native Americans approve of the names.
Similarly, after many chose to boycott Goya following the CEO's White House speech on July 9 praising Trump, McEnany stoked the fires. “We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump,” Goya CEO Unanue said, comparing the president to his grandfather, an immigrant from Spain who founded the company in 1936, which quickly prompted prominent Latinx leaders to boycott with hashtags like #Goyaway and #BoycottGoya to trend. Trump tweeted his endorsement of the brand the day after. Making her stance on the boycott clear, McEnany spoke on Fox & Friends the following Monday. “This is the kind of basket of deplorable politics that the left routinely engages in,” she said.
In her brief tenure as Press Secretary, her "hot takes" have been the subject of frequent criticism. Shortly after her appointment, Seth Meyers described her on an episode of Late Night as the "White House Liar" adding, "McEnany’s hiring very much illustrates the feedback loop of disinformation and propaganda that exists between the Trump White House and Fox News."
McEnany has since proven that she can magnify just about anything Trump says or does. In June, when asked by CNN reporter Jim Acosta, "When you share fake videos like that," referring to Trump tweeting a manipulated video on Twitter. "Doesn't that make you fake news?" McEnany responded by saying, "I think the president was making a satirical point that was quite funny if you go and actually watch the video."
But her press briefings are not solely about expounding on Trump's Twitter feed, at least not directly. Sometimes, they involve overt promotion of ideals Trump wants to propagandize. Last month, McEnany showed a White House produced video of law enforcement embracing protestors saying it was “very important for us all to watch” because it wasn’t something that media would show you. She did not, however, show videos of officers brutalizing protestors outside of the White House just moments before Trump addressed the nation in the Rose Garden.
McEnany has also adopted a routine ending to her press conferences in the form of an attempted mic-drop moment. Not only does it, in effect, give her the last word — eliminating the option of follow-up questions or comments — but the orchestrated exit creates the perfect fodder for pro-Trump videos, abruptly shut binder and all.
It seems now that McEnany has carved out a space for herself that may surpass the concerns of press secretaries past: She is not only going to continue to prop up Trump's Twitter ramblings, but she's going to defend and build upon them. If all of Trump's world is a stage, McEnany has proven herself an excellent scene partner.