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Sean Spicer: The Steele Dossier and “Radical Nation”

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I got the call on January 10th [2017] from CNN and then BuzzFeed about them running with this hoax. I pointed out at the time that it was wrong. I could demonstrably prove it was wrong. And yet, they stuck by it…”

On November 23rd, Sean Spicer joined Merion West editor-in-chief Erich Prince to discuss his recent book RADICAL NATION: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s Dangerous Plan for America. Mr. Spicer served as the first of President Donald Trump’s White House Press Secretaries. In 2018, he released his book The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President about his time in the White House, and, last year, he began hosting Spicer & Co. on Newsmax TV. In this interview, Mr. Spicer and Mr. Prince discuss RADICAL NATION, recent events on Capitol Hill such as the reconciliation bill, and recent updates about the Steele Dossier. 

Good to hear from you, Sean, and I’m looking forward to chatting about your book. I had a chance to read it this weekend and enjoyed reading.

Thank you very much; that means a lot.

I wanted to start off by asking you about this poignant anecdote, in my view, about that photo of Bernie Sanders sitting at the inauguration in those mittens. You narrate how the woman who gifted Sanders those mittens, a woman from Vermont by the name of Jen Ellis, described having to shut down her own company making these mittens, citing taxation and regulation. And here she is cheering on Bernie [Sanders] and the Biden administration, which is presumably going to enact a lot of those policies, and I think that’s a disconnect we see a lot. 

Oh, I think that’s 100% right. In fact, we’re seeing that now with Build Back Better. I think they get sold a bill of goods—I mean, the only way to put it is; it’s like a timeshare contract where people get sucked into something because it sounds good and [they] get offered something and then don’t realize the long-term consequences of what they’ve agreed to. And I think that’s the case with this woman. She’s cheering this guy on, and the very policies that he’s supporting are what drove her company out. To your point, it’s more prevalent than I think we realize. I got to look at the recent spending, and people get sold on price tags or bumper stickers or [the rhetoric about] voting rights. No one is stopping to say what does that really mean or what is the fine print.

And another thing you point to is this potential cognitive dissonance where you talk about a lot of these people who vote for Democrats. You talk about how they come from these hard-working backgrounds, and maybe they live their lives by what are, in practice, conservative values personally, but then they go to the voting booth to support candidates advocating the exact opposite.

Exactly, but we see it in all sorts of policies. So many things that people care about—I think they get sold, again, on these bumper stickers and slogans and don’t realize that the true impact of what’s being sold to them is inconsistent with their values, frankly, their way of life, not just their values.

So is there something Republicans can do to make people more aware of that? I know there’s been a pretty strong pushback to this messaging from the Biden administration that the real price tag [of Build Back Better] is zero, and I think that’s been pretty thoroughly responded to, but is there a way to do a better job of making these people aware of that?

The answer is “Yes.” This isn’t exactly the same, but when it came to “Voter ID,” I think Republicans have to really push back on that and explain to folks that the bumper sticker that the Democrats are selling, i.e., this is about voting rights, was a joke.

This intersects with another thing I wanted to ask you. You and I both come from the Northeast; I’m from New Jersey, and you’re from Rhode Island, and there are a lot of people in this region who, as we saw with the election results in New Jersey, maybe they’re starting to become aware of this a bit at the state level. Obviously, New Hampshire now has a [Republican] trifecta, but is there some way you think you can communicate to voters in these states about these issues? Do you see a possibility of Republicans winning federal elections in the Northeast in 2022?

Yeah, I think if you look at both of the districts in New Hampshire are going to be competitive this year. Maine always has one or two. I think Rhode Island, I hate to say it, is a lost cause for now, but I am consistently surprised every time I go back there at how more and more people are getting active and involved. Rhode Island is a unique situation because of the make-up of the state—meaning that people in Rhode Island are there for generations in a lot of cases and don’t generally engage in the same level of mobility that a lot of other people do. I think that’s a different case, though Rhode Island does have a history of electing Republican governors. But I think Connecticut got some hope [recently]. 

Part of this has to also do with redistricting lines. There’s an element to how those lines are ultimately drawn. Maryland is going through this process where they’re trying to dilute Andy Harris’ district (the lone Republican), and the funny thing, I thought was interesting, is the backlash from Democrats who are like, “Hey, let’s beat ‘em fair and square.” So we’ll see how that plays out. But I think you’ll see the movement grow, but, again, it’s going to be a little harder to see how it plays out from a federal standpoint, as you put it, only because redistricting has such a heavy hand in that. 

For a long time, you’d hear a lot of Democrats talk about money in politics, and then we saw Mike Bloomberg come in, and they were awfully silent, and they used to complain a lot about gerrymandering, but they seem awfully quiet about Maryland and Illinois.

Oh my god—I think the bottom line is Democrats know no bounds when it comes to hypocrisy. Look at just what’s happening over the last 72 hours: They’ve defunded the police; they’re against violence, except when it’s the Left being violent and destructive; they’re against the judicial system until somebody gets off with a $500 or $1,000 bond and kills six individuals, right? So these guys have all been silent over the last few days about the system that they claim is inequitable and racist, though no one seems to be asking them about the fact that there’s an individual who just committed a heinous crime and the system let him out. 

I don’t recall too many people talking about how that was an unjust system that let him out over and over again. That was an avoidable situation and is another example of the Left’s soft on bail, soft on crime stance. 

One thing I might ask you to respond to is: In recent days, a number of right-of-center commentators have been questioning the First Step Act and certain policies out of your administration they perceive to have been too soft on crime. How would you respond to them?

I was never a champion of the First Step Act. I just don’t understand why we keep missing the problem with crime, which is to get at how do we avoid it [and] not how do we lessen a sentence. I think we have completely missed the discussion with respect to crime; instead of trying to figure out how to let more people out, it [should be] how do we avoid the behavior in the first place.

You mean in terms of investing in some of these communities or education or something along those lines?

Yeah, or all of the above, look at families. That’s clearly a big factor in it: the degradation of the nuclear family [and] the lack of fathers. Those are all things that are clearly playing a role in the rise of crime, and yet, we’re talking about, “How do we let more people out quicker?”

I think some people, myself included, would argue that some of the previsions, especially in this reconciliation bill with universal Pre-K, are trying to shift the expectation to government to look after children rather than families, and I think that’s something a lot of people are very critical of.

Yes, and I would agree with you 100%. I think that’s absolutely right, but that’s the whole point, though, of all the Left and, frankly, the point that I make throughout the book that their whole goal is addiction to government. More government keeps them in power, and once government has its hands on things, it never lets them go. 

To the point on the price tag, a lot of the discussion is assuming a lot of these programs are going to be phased out or temporary, but we have reason to believe that they’ll remain.

Once government has its hands on something, it will never go away, and Republicans are horrible at fighting. Once [programs] are phased out, [Republicans] start to go, “Okay, let’s make it permanent.” The Democrats know this: All they need to do is get the camel’s nose under the tent.

I know that a big line that’s been coming out of a lot of national conservatives recently is that too many Republicans are fighting for whatever the Democrats favored five or ten years ago.

Yeah, there’s no question. I think a lot of Republicans are just Democratic-lite.

To that point, Sean, I would say that in the majority of your book, you’re outlining the problems you see out of the Biden administration, as well as media hypocrisy, which I want to ask you about in a second. But toward the end, you get to this list of recommendations you have for conservatives about what they can do in the meantime. I know you write, “It’s going to be a long four years with Joe Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice president.” One suggestion you offer is to stay in touch with your elected representatives. I think that a lot of people right-of-center called some of the House members who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. What do you think conservative constituents should be telling their representatives whether in a red state or somewhere like in New England, in New Hampshire, maybe in some of these states where there’s a chance of switching things the other way?

I think they should just state their position: pro or con. But the bottom line is—I’ve worked on the Hill for multiple members of Congress, and they do acknowledge, and if they know something is vastly unpopular, they’re going to think twice about voting for it. So, my point in each one of those, there’s not necessarily this silver bullet, but it’s that you can’t just sit back. I don’t really care if you live in a 70/30 district; they need to, at least, know that there’s opposition, and they need to know that they can’t run around saying, “My constituents all favor this.” So, sometimes, I feel like people feel like they’re banging their head against the wall, but you have to move the ball down the field sometimes, yard by yard.

I don’t know if you saw it, [but] The Wall Street Journal had an editorial out this week about how Nancy Pelosi marches house moderates towards their political death (“to the political gallows”), and you think of someone like Abigail Spanberger who made this big line of, “We didn’t elect Joe Biden to be FDR,” but then she goes ahead and votes for the reconciliation bill anyway. How do you, as a constituent, stand up to the immense political pressure from party leaders these members of Congress are under? My guess is that Spanberger, if she had her way, probably didn’t want to vote for it. 

She had to. So there are two things. One is, from a political standpoint, I think Pelosi’s view was, one, they’re going to tag you with stuff anyway, so you might as well get the credit for voting for it. And, two, I’ll help you raise money.  Which angle are you coming at this from? Pelosi said that she would not run for another term as Speaker, so I don’t think Pelosi cares. I think Pelosi’s view is, “I want to cement my legacy; I think Joe Biden wants to cement his legacy, and whether you lose the House by one or 25, it really doesn’t matter.”

We’ll see what happens with Jared Golden in Maine, but my suspicion is that a lot of these swing-state Democrats are going to lose no matter what they do.

Well, that’s my point, though. So why bother trying to help them or save them if you know where it ends?

I think that was probably a lot of the calculus there. In your book, you write, “To me, President Biden’s worst cabinet pick of all is Xavier Becerra.” Would you still say that now? Or, after Afghanistan, would you maybe point to Lloyd Austin, or with the level of inflation, would you point to Janet Yellen?

The longer that they’re in office, the harder they make that choice. I think Buttigieg is giving them a run for their money, as well. That title is one that—I think at the time, it was based on current events, what was leading the news. To your point, I think more and more different folks have definitely made a strong run at that title.

I think a lot of people were surprised that [Secretary] Buttigieg had been out on paternity leave for a number of months.

Yeah, but here’s the kicker: I think the funny part about this to me was, afterward, they played it up as such a victory. If [his being on paternity leave] was that big of a victory, if it was that important, why did he never announce it? Until he got caught, he never announced that he was on paternity leave. Until that time, he never said, “I’m going to be going on paternity leave because it’s the right thing to do, and I’m proud of it.” He just didn’t tell anyone and didn’t show up.

Yeah, it’s strange; I figure if you’re about to be appointed to a major cabinet role, if you want to spend time home with your family, that’s fine then don’t accept it, but it seems strange to accept it and—in the midst of this big infrastructure push—to not be available. 

Also, I hate to say this, but I was on active duty when my son was born, and I was back at work within seven days, ten days at the longest, and the point is I wasn’t running a department. Certain jobs just don’t have the same luxury that others do, and it’s unfortunate, but it’s true. That’s the reality of life, and I would have loved to have stayed home longer. I’m glad [certain] families can do that, but, during a pandemic when you have supply chain crises, I’m not really sure if that’s the right example to be sending.

Wrapping up, I wanted to bring up your points [in the book] on the media. You have two chapters on that: “The American Media Disgrace Part I” and “The American Media Disgrace Part II.” In them, you point to various times the press was particularly unfair to President Trump. One that you spend a fair amount of time on was an occasion I recall, where [President Trump] had finished giving the commencement speech at West Point, and he was walking down the ramp and grabbed on for support. You briefly mention the Steele Dossier, but, in light of recent events, I would imagine that would have played a more prominent role in those chapters—and maybe you could just talk a little about how you see that issue, now knowing the extent of what we know now.

Great question. I got the call on January 10th [2017] from CNN and then BuzzFeed about them running with this hoax. I pointed out at the time that it was wrong. I could demonstrably prove it was wrong. And yet, they stuck by it, and it has now been even more so proven wrong, and there’s been zero accountability. I mean, there were awards given out. I think it’s pathetic. It just shows you this state of so-called journalism in the U.S. right now, but, frankly, what people like Jake Tapper have done is an insult to the word journalism.

You pointed to the statistics that a lot of us are familiar with, with declining trust rates, but I guess it’s not in the business interest of these companies to eat their hat for their consumer base. Is there a way out of this paradigm? Is it alternative tech platforms? How do we get out of this paradigm?

What do you mean? Explain the paradigm.

What I mean is, let’s say you’re Jake Tapper, and you’ve reported all of this information, “Russia this,” “Russia that,” your viewers are hooked on that narrative, so your company is really disincentivized from going and saying, “We’ve basically misrepresented things to you for all this time.” I think a lot of these people are doubling down and saying, “This might not be true, but ‘Russia’ nevertheless…”

Exactly! You just said it. That’s exactly right. I watched Christopher Steele. It was a couple of weeks ago, where he said, “Well, you know, there’s nothing that proves that some of it still can’t be true.” And it’s like, are you kidding? The answer is: “You’re right, but that’s not a good answer.” You shouldn’t say, “Well, gosh! Because I’m so invested in this, I can’t say I’m wrong.” Yeah, you can, I guess, but at the end of the day, understand that that’s why people don’t trust you anymore. People are voting with their remotes and turning off CNN. So the question is, would you rather apologize and show people that you were wrong and that you made a mistake, or would you rather stick by it and have people go, “Great! That’s exactly what we’ve thought of CNN, and we’re not watching it anymore.”

We’ll see, maybe, if the market takes care of it. There are obviously some alternatives coming out, your program being one of them. There are new social media platforms that are coming into existence. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not these companies correct or just lose out on potential market share.

They’re not; they won’t. I think that they’re going to keep spiraling downward, and I only say that because, to your point, there’s been no sign that they want to correct. At least Sally Buzbee tried to fix The Washington Post. So you can argue that the younger reporters don’t get it, but at least Sally Buzbee tried to update some of the stories. 

We heard a lot of that after 2016. A lot of newsrooms said we’re going to get our people outside of New York and Washington and talk to people. But that didn’t actually happen, and they missed [reading] the room on 2020 and not picking up on the fact that Republicans gained all those seats in the House of Representatives. It seemed like they didn’t learn from their mistakes. 

Correct, I remember literally sitting down with one of the senior executives at NBC News in New York after the election, and they [were] saying, “We got this wrong; here’s how we’re going to adjust; here’s how we’re going to fix it,” and they did nothing. I think they were sorry because they were embarrassed, but then they found Russia and thought, “Okay, cool. Now we have an excuse.”

It’s an unfortunate state of affairs. I know your former boss, President Trump, would say [something to the effect of], “We like good journalists, but a lot of these people are not doing a good job.” But I think what happens is there’s a loss of trust in journalism across the board, regardless of whether or not [a given journalist] is doing a good job. I think that’s what we’re seeing with some of those Gallup studies you point to in the book, [studies] a lot of people are talking about it all the time.

I mean—just look at the growth of Newsmax. The funny thing is, despite the media narrative, the Nielsen demographics show we draw a fair amount of folks from CNN and MSNBC ironically. 

In your book, you mentioned January 20th, 2021, a lot of the reporters, in your view, who were very tough on the Trump administration were much softer on the Biden administration. Does conservative media—do you think they do a good job of consistently being on the ball? For example, during the Obama administration, Breitbart used to report on the deaths of various migrants on the border. And, then, during the Trump administration, it was the left-of-center people mostly reporting on that. Is there a way for both sides to consistently focus on the actual policies regardless of who is in the White House?  

I guess there is, but you’re always going to be aware of who your audience is. And the difference is, I think, being honest about who you are. For example, I think I’m very open about the show, who I am, and what we do. I don’t think CNN is as honest about how they cover stuff, and that’s the difference.

So it’s more that they’re presenting themselves to be the impartial person in the room rather than being upfront about their biases?

I think that’s fair.

Sean, thanks so much for your time. Good luck with the rest of the book release.

Thank you, I really appreciate it.

Erich J. Prince is the editor-in-chief at Merion West. With a background in journalism and media criticism, he has contributed to newspapers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The News & Observer, as well as online outlets including Quillette and The Hill. Erich has also spoken at conferences and events on issues related to gangs, crime, and policing. He studied political science at Yale University.

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