Kayleigh McEnany is standing with President Donald Trump.
Last week, she joined him in front of St. John’s Church, where he promised that “the greatest country in the world” would come back on his watch. McEnany gave a nod and did not budge until the president did.
With poise and preparation, McEnany has made clear from her first briefing that she’s willing to defend her boss.
“I’m around the president,” she told reporters last month. “His intent is always to give truthful information to the American people.”
And to punch back. When his appearance at St. John’s generated condemnations, Trump said on Twitter that his critics “got it wrong!”
You got it wrong! If the protesters were so peaceful, why did they light the Church on fire the night before? People liked my walk to this historic place of worship! Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. James Lankford, Sen. Ben Sasse. Please read @MZHemingway below. https://t.co/PbVaUcKmXf
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 3, 2020
A day later, McEnany elaborated. It was, she suggested, a “leadership moment” akin to Winston Churchill’s famed inspections of bomb-damaged London during World War II.
“Like Churchill, we saw him inspecting the bombing damage and it sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people,” she said.
Trump holding up the Bible, she added, “was a very important symbol for the American people to see that we will get through this, through unity and through faith.”
All White House press secretaries supposedly tell the president’s story in the most advantageous way possible, including by “telling the truth slowly,” as Mike McCurry, President Bill Clinton’s spokesman, wryly described the job. For presidents, there’s always a reelection at stake — if not theirs, then their allies’ on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.
But the truth is always a part of the press secretary’s message.
“As White House press secretary you’re going to spin, you’e going to present the president in the best possible light, you going to kick aside questions that you don’t want to answer,” McCurry said in an interview.
“But at the same time, people have to have some reliance that they’re getting accurate information when it really counts.”
McEnany, 32, is an alumnus of a Catholic school in Tampa, Florida, the University of Miami and Harvard Law Schools, and was a familiar face on CNN as a conservative commentator.
She’s also an author. The dedication of her 2018 book, “The New American Revolution: The Making of a Populist Movement,” reveals another influence: the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
The book is dedicated in part to Rachel Scott, the first person murdered there. In the dedication, McEnany thanks Scott for “making the faith my parents had taught me real in my own life.” She also writes of the effect that images from Columbine had on her at age 11: “It was the day that I saw evil and realized that it was alive in the world.”
McEnany’s approach has won praise from the president and his staff, according to three aides and Republicans close to the White House who spoke on condition to discuss internal matters.
She and communications director Alyssa Farah were brought in by new chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Trump signed off, having admired McEnany’s work on TV and for his reelection campaign. McEnany has told aides that she wanted to both defend Trump on TV and also emulate the tenure of Sarah Sanders, who had close access to the president and became one of his most trusted advisers.
McEnany meets with the president more than a dozen times a day. White House officials believe that McEnany has a strong feel for the president’s base and, unlike others who have worked in the West Wing, does not try to reshape Trump into a more conventional chief executive.
Aides have pointed out that she is trying to improve the responsiveness of the press shop but also sees the job — and particularly the briefings — as an attempt to go on offense. That means not just pushing the White House perspective, but also at times criticizing news coverage and establishment media.
Asked by reporters about Twitter’s move to fact check the president’s tweets, McEnany gave examples of mistakes made by prominent news outlets.
“So if anyone needs to be fact-checked,” she concluded, “I think it should be the media.”
McEnany declined to comment for this story. But Meadows applauded her.
“No one is ever better prepared to handle a wide range of questions at any given time,” he said.
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