White House

3 takeaways: Weekend reinforces that Trump is his own communications director

President spends weekend retweeting of conservative lawmakers, pundits after Bill Shine’s departure

Fox News Channel and radio talk show host Sean Hannity interviews President Donald Trump before a campaign rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Sept. 20. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — Bill Shine, the former Fox News executive, is no longer White House communications director. But President Donald Trump’s weekend messaging shows he might not need to fill the position.

Trump returned to the White House Sunday evening after a weekend at his South Florida resort without speaking to reporters. Several shouted questions about his new request that lawmakers give him $8.6 billion for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border barrier. A Roll Call reporter asked about Michael Cohen accusing the president of lying when he claimed his former fixer lied about not asking him for a pardon.

It took all of four minutes after Marine One landed on the South Lawn for the president, first lady Melania Trump and son Barron Trump to walk from the helicopter to the White House residence. The executive chopper had barely left the South Lawn before he was back on Twitter, retweeting a conservative commentator defending him.

While shuffling back and forth between his Mar-a-Lago resort and his nearby golf club for rounds Saturday and Sunday with LPGA and PGA stars, Trump did not have any interactions with his traveling press pool. He spoke behind closed doors to hundreds of GOP donors both days, but his lone public messaging came via Twitter. Here are three takeaways from the weekend.

‘Hostile and corrupt’

Sean Spicer (twice), Michael Dubke, Hope Hicks, Anthony Scaramucci (for 11 days) and Shine all have tried to lead Trump’s White House communications operation. Each struggled. Each lasted less than a year, with Shine having the longest tenure at  246 days.

[Road Ahead: Budget week, sending a Mueller message, Senate vote on termination]

Part of the reason: The president is his own communications director.

Trump reportedly wanted Shine to be more aggressive. A Sunday tweet offered a guidebook in just 42 words to anyone interested in replacing Shine. The president called the current U.S. media “the most hostile and corrupt … in the history of American politics.”

Bottom line: Trump wants a communications chief who can either instantly make coverage of his presidency more, in his view, complimentary — or one more willing to wage with with the media.

Stable of surrogates

Shine is out and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders rarely holds daily press briefings. After the president himself pulled the plug on her appearances behind the White House podium, she has held just four press briefings since Nov. 1 — and none since Jan. 28.

Notably, Shine was never seen on camera defending the television-conscious president, while Sanders, Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, chief economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow and Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley routinely appear on TV — usually on base-popular Fox News— to make the boss’s case and attack his foes.

But the president showed he has plenty of surrogates, spending ample time over the weekend retweeting Fox personalities, GOP members and other conservative commentators. From Cohen to attacks on Democrats to the state of the economy to Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III to immigration, Trump showed again over the weekend he prefers to broadcast messages rather than have reporters question him and his top aides.

Fox phalanx?

Shine’s Friday resignation comes a few days after The New Yorker posted a lengthy article suggesting Fox News has become too pro-Trump. The headline blares “The Making of the Fox News White House,” with a subheadline that reads: “Fox News has always been partisan. But has it become propaganda?”

[White House readies lean budget with fat nondefense cuts]

Shine’s tenure raised criticism that Fox News and its conservative personalities — like its morning “Fox & Friends” team and evening host Sean Hannity — had grown too close to the White House. The New Yorker article quotes Joe Peyronnin, an NYU journalism professor, offering this assessment of the network: “It’s as if the President had his own press organization. It’s not healthy.”

But the president showed this weekend he isn’t trying to distance himself from the conservative news network.

Watch: Cohen vs. the GOP: the many defenses for Trump

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