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Kayleigh McEnany: a Tough Act to Follow

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“However, after the departure of three spokespeople before her, it seems that President Trump has found his keeper—and the media their match—in a 32-year-old Harvard Law School graduate: Kayleigh McEnany.”

As compared to the Obama administration, the Trump administration has experienced a noted, tumultuous shift in leadership within the White House communications team, specifically in terms of presidential press secretaries. Whereas President Barack Obama committed to three press secretaries throughout his entire eight years in office, President Donald Trump has appointed four press secretaries in only his first term as commander-in-chief. In this unique situation where the only constant variable seems to be the element of change, one has to wonder what secret ingredients it takes to remain at the post of press secretary in the Trump administration. And this simple question begs the follow-up: Does the current press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, have what it takes—whatever “it” might be?

The job description of press secretary carries with it tremendous responsibilities. Then, there is also the fact that those who hold this position in the current administration must speak on behalf of President Trump and his sometimes capricious behavior. Sean Spicer, the first in the series, held the position of White House Press Secretary from the time of President Trump’s inauguration through to July of 2017, when President Trump  accepted his resignation. What followed was the  promotion of Sarah Huckabee Sanders from Spicer’s top deputy to press secretary. Sanders’  tenure as press secretary lasted nearly two years, before she announced her plans to return to Arkansas with her family. The timing of the decision marked a significant  94 days without Sanders appearing for a press briefing, where she was known to spar with White House reporters when defending President Trump. With Sanders’ return to Arkansas, Stephanie Grisham was  appointed as President Trump’s third press secretary. Grisham held the second shortest stint,  serving a mere nine months. Media platforms reveled in Grisham’s execution of the job as CNN  jeered, “Stephanie Grisham was the White House press secretary in name only,” in an article entitled “How Stephanie Grisham made a mockery of the job of White House press secretary.” The news platform justified its sneers with the truthful claim that Grisham led not one press briefing during her tenure—arguably the most integral task for a press secretary.

The turbulent nature of President Trump’s communications team has attracted much scrutiny, with BBC News  commenting, “The steady erosion of the role of press secretary is only a small but notable part,” echoing the unconventional presidency of President Trump as reason for blame. However, after the departure of three spokespeople before her, it seems that President Trump has found his keeper—and the media their match—in a 32-year-old Harvard Law School graduate: Kayleigh McEnany. She has since commanded news cycles with her press briefings. Prior to serving at the White House, McEnany had  contributed to talk shows and debates airing on CNN and Fox News, before ultimately hopping the Trump train and securing the role of spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. From there, McEnany found her place within President Trump’s re-election committee, which positioned her in the running for White House Press Secretary following Grisham’s departure.

McEnany—equipped with meticulously prepared notes—fired back with a slew of instances in which media outlets such as VoxThe Washington PostThe New York Times, and NPR grossly underestimated the severity of COVID-19 and flipped the question asking if they cared to take back any of their previously stated claims.

Interestingly enough, McEnany has managed to garner bipartisan recognition—and praise—for her work as press secretary, particularly in the context of her press briefings, which have been refreshingly reinstated. Presently having held more than 30 press briefings since her appointment only a few short months ago in April, McEnany has been at the forefront of the United States’ most timely predicaments—from the rioting and destruction of federal property in Portland, to the progression of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) across states, to the alarming uptick in crime in Chicago—in informative 30-minute intervals. But, possibly most notable of all is the fact that President Trump’s sharpest critics have sometimes praised McEnany. Media critic Erik Wemple wrote an  opinion piece at The Washington Post primarily chastising President Trump’s corruption of the “discussion of media.” But Wemple relented in his concluding remarks, where he highlighted McEnany  stating, “[McEnany] quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and left the lectern. Not a single reporter shouted a question as McEnany left the room. How often has Trump accomplished such a feat?” His statements were in response to McEnany’s June 1st briefing in which she elaborated on—via her answers to questions and visual aids—the damage inflicted on American citizens and property as a result of the riots and looting that followed George Floyd’s death in May. 

All the while, McEnany is, by no means, blameless in the eyes of the President’s opponents, who consistently launch hostile questions at the young press secretary. Jeff Mason, a Reuters’ journalist, attended the briefing held on May 6th where he directly questioned McEnany  saying, “…you made a comment, I believe, on Fox, in which you said, ‘President Trump will not allow the coronavirus to come to this country.’ Given what has happened since then, obviously, would you like to take that back?” McEnany—equipped with meticulously prepared notes—fired back with a slew of instances in which media outlets such as VoxThe Washington PostThe New York Times, and NPR grossly underestimated the severity of COVID-19 and flipped the question asking if they cared to take back any of their previously stated claims.

However, this act of intense but necessary offense is arguably the most valuable weapon in McEnany’s arsenal to aid effectively in the Trump administration’s rugged uphill battle of disarming mainstream media narratives. Conservative commentator and novelist Andrew Klavan expertly  analyzed this particular exchange between McEnany and Mason and further discredits Mason’s hollow question by pointing out that the question itself was uttered for the sole purpose of attempting to fluster McEnany and was of no informational value to the public. As etched into time by the wise observations of the author of  The Art of War, Sun Tzu: Knowing your enemy and knowing yourself is vital in winning life’s battles. McEnany acknowledges that her enemy is the carefully manipulative rhetoric of the press, and she defends herself and President Trump accordingly.

Conservatives, in particular, have relished in McEnany’s clever quips back to reporters sprinkled in throughout her sound attempts to counteract “the swamp” and its biased—and often combative—inquiries against President Trump. Klavan willingly stretched as far as to  declare McEnany “…a goddess of media destruction” based on her activity since April and explained that her offensive mentality accurately complements the “Trump ethos” of fighting back. Similarly, Roger Kimball—conservative commentator and editor of The New Criterion—applauded McEnany in saying, “…her tenure has been glorious.”And then, true to form, McEnany recently took control of an exchange between herself and a CNN White House correspondent during a press  briefing who insisted on repeating a question McEnany had already answered. In response, McEnany told the reporter to, “Stop filibustering…” and firmly continued the briefing by pivoting to answer a different journalist’s question. 

There is also undeniable charm behind McEnany’s brains, with her blonde hair and magnetic smile. She stands at the podium as only the fourth female White House press secretary to date and as a fresh face to the Republican Party as a whole. Her looks have undoubtedly contributed to her growing fandom on social media, and her clap backs to reporters have even made their way to TikTok—the Gen Z hub for all things entertainment. As we know, it is no small feat to put politics at the forefront of teenagers’ minds.

McEnany has also been known to sneak in the last word during her briefings, which usually instigates a flurry of questions as she leaves the podium. This strategy worked especially well for her, however, when in her closing remarks during August 13th’s briefing, McEnany undermined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s negotiations by accusing her of, “engaging in blatant partisanship.” McEnany’s supporting evidence for this came when she cited Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna’s statement that, “…Congress should be in session. I think it’s absurd for Congress to be going on a break during a pandemic and a national crisis.” And, with that, McEnany drew the briefing to a complete close in saying, “I can tell you one person who hasn’t been on a break: It’s this President, providing relief for the American people.”

During her time as press secretary and throughout her professional career, McEnany has managed to gain respect—not always for her ideology but for the techniques applied to her craft. As CNN commentator Van Jones remarked, “I’m not trying to defend the messaging, but what I hope people can acknowledge is there’s very few people in either party who can accomplish what Kayleigh has accomplished in such a short time…People keep taking her lightly, and they keep regretting it.” And so, while Kayleigh McEnany very well appears to be a tough act to follow, it stands to reason that she should be the press secretary to stay, whether that is only through January—or onward into a second term should President Trump secure victory on November 3rd.

Bernadette Breslin is an editorial intern at Merion West and a student at the University of Pennsylvania. 

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