‘One thing that never goes out of style in the Trump White House is someone who’s willing to go on TV and just fight it out with somebody…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) On his former “Colbert Report” show, TV talk-show host Stephen Colbert was known for having cultivated a fake Republican persona, using irony to paint a nasty caricature of conservatives.
But the Trump administration may have just beat him at his own game, using a supposed Trump-basher to instead engage in some guerilla public relations on prime-time, network television.
On Monday, the CBS “Late Show” host brought on Cliff Sims, who left his role as director of message strategy and spent two months writing a newly released White House ‘tell-all’ book titled “Team of Vipers,” for which he received a seven-figure deal, according to The Daily Mail.
Sims acknowledged that he considered himself one of those “vipers” referenced in the book’s title.
“If I’m going to tell the truth … I’ve gotta be willing to be honest about myself, too,” he said. “… [M]y biggest regret of all was that I was not always a picture of my [Christian] faith to the people that I was around.”
Colbert—who is now free to spout his unabashedly leftist views and routinely snipe at Republicans from his network soapbox—typically expects his guests to follow certain political cues, but instead of criticizing Trump, Sims spent much of the segment defending the president.
He hedged when Colbert asked point-blank, “Are you still on the Trump Train?”
“It’s kind of fun to be on the outside and not have to defend every single thing, but in terms of what it means for the nation, I can say it’s probably mixed,” Sims replied.
“I do think the economic growth that we have seen is great,” he added. “I believe that he deserves credit for pulling us out of some of these foreign engagements that president after president had promised to do and just hadn’t. … he’s really trying to keep his promises, and I think that’s something genuine.”
As Colbert teed him up to mock Trump’s surprise announcement in December of a planned withdrawal from Syria, which prompted the departure of Defense Secretary James Mattis, Sims said the president had, in fact, been discussing and pressing for the Syria policy long before his public announcement.
“He’s surrounded by people at the highest levels who make it their mission, it seems to me, to slow-walk everything that he’s doing, to kind of subvert what he’s doing,” Sims said.
“Some people that don’t agree with him would say, ‘Well thank God they’re in there.’ I would say to that, what kind of precedent does it set if somehow it’s now patriotic to undermine the duly elected president of the United States that you serve?”
Echoing past statements the White House has made about “resistance” members, Sims said it was honorable for Mattis to step aside rather than continue to be a roadblock if he objected to the policy.
“If you disagree with the guy, you always have an option: You either get on board once he makes a decision and you try to implement what he does, or you quit,” he said.
Sims did, however, paint a less-than-flattering portrait of some in the administration who, he claimed, have worked to damage Trump’s agenda. He wrote in the book that adviser Kellyanne Conway was “cartoon villain brought to life,” according to Roll Call.
Sims told Colbert that he had once been working with Conway in her office, using her synced Apple computer to formulate a strategy for defending her from allegations that she was privately trashing others in the White House—only to discover that she was on her iPhone doing it while they worked.
“I’m watching her talk to reporter after reporter and trash her colleagues and even not painting the president in a very favorable light, and basically I’m supposed to be writing a statement defending her against exactly what she’s doing in that very moment,” Sims said.
But he added that Conway has been able to keep her spot in Trump’s inner circle because of her willingness to defend him and his policies publicly.
“One thing that never goes out of style in the Trump White House is someone who’s willing to go on TV and just fight it out with somebody,” Sims said.
Other episodes of palace intrigue in the book include a little-known rivalry between White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.
Sims said that Miller stabbed his supposed mentor in the back by telling Trump that his poll numbers were being hurt by Bannon leaking to the media.
“You had a lot of people thrust together who kind of came in there and had their own best interest in mind,” he told Colbert.
While the book does include some anecdotes sure to roil the image-sensitive chief executive, the focus of many is on since-departed staff members like Bannon, short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci and former Chief of Staff John Kelly.
It underscores the growing pains of an organization from outside the ‘swamp’ attempting to challenge both bureaucratic inertia and the active partisan resistance from Obama-era holdovers.
“As a staffer you like to think that those things are congruent—I’m gonna serve my nation by serving my president,” Sims told Colbert. “I think you had a lot of people in the White House who came in—sometimes I was one of them—who got wrapped up in the game, what happens when you have proximity to power, when you have access to the most powerful person on the planet.”
Both Conway and Trump responded on Tuesday to Sims’ media appearances, including a visit to Trump’s nemesis network, CNN.
Trump issued a Twitter response denying that Sims had any insider knowledge of the administration, while suggesting a lawsuit may be on the horizon.
A low level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction. He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer. He signed a non-disclosure agreement. He is a mess!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2019
It may be too early to tell whether Sims’ underlying motive was, in fact, a self-serving betrayal for financial gain; or if it was—as he says—an honest, candid insider assessment driven by his own need for penitence and catharsis; or rather if he is a double-agent infiltrating the true den of vipers—the hostile media—to spread talking-points under the pretense of Trump-bashing.
Whatever the case, as his media tour continues, Sims clearly will not be following the usual script.
Sims told Colbert that at one point he had helped Trump to compile an “enemies” list.
“I had you at No. 2 on the list, so…,” he trailed off.