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Even Sarah Huckabee Sanders Is Struggling to Defend Trump’s Rhetoric

The press secretary held a briefing to help tamp down criticism of the president’s rhetoric. It didn’t go well

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pauses as she takes a question from a reporter during the daily press briefing at the White House, in Washington. Sanders gave a statement on the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue and took questionsTrump, Washington, USA - 29 Oct 2018

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pauses as she takes a question from a reporter during the daily press briefing at the White House, in Washington. Sanders gave a statement on the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue and took questions.

Andrew Harnik/AP/REX Shutterstock

President Trump is taking a beating over his divisive rhetoric, and the White House is getting desperate. On Monday afternoon, for the first time since October 3rd, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders actually hosted a press briefing. Sanders only held one such briefing in both August and September, so the decision to double up this month signals an internal belief that the White House needs to project a unified front against criticisms of the president in the wake of recent violence. The briefing was short and harried, with Sanders mostly dodging question as she excoriated the “Fake News” for daring to speak ill of the president. CNBC’s John Harwood tweeted that it was the first time he ever thought Sanders “looked shaken by criticism at the podium.”

The press secretary first made sure to make clear that no one was to blame for the attempted bombings of Trump’s political enemies or the massacre that left 11 dead in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday except the perpetrators themselves. Trump has on multiple occasions blamed the free press, which hours earlier he referred to as the “true Enemy of the People.”

CNN has been a focal point of the president’s criticisms of the media. He has repeatedly described them as “Fake News” on Twitter, and last year even posted a video of himself body-slamming a man with the network’s logo superimposed over his head. But when CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Sanders whether the network, which has recently been the target of multiple attempting bombings, was one of the outlets to which Trump was referring when he tweeted about the “true Enemy of the People,” she demurred.

The president’s rhetoric was the focal point of the briefing, but plenty of other issues were raised for Sanders to mischaracterize.

She lied about Trump’s health care policy.

She lied about Trump’s margin of victory in the 2016 election.

She threw her hands up about how to handle mass shootings, but noted that the administration is entertaining every option, including calling on the military, to stifle the imaginary “invasion” crisis posed by the caravan of migrants currently making its way through southern Mexico.

The briefing ended abruptly, with Sanders ducking out of a line of inquiry from NBC’s Hallie Jackson about her contention that the president is simply “drawing contrast” as he continues to attack his opponents despite preaching the need for unity. “At what time does a national tragedy take precedence over the president needing to punch back?” Jackson asked. “If not now, when?”

“I think you saw the president do exactly that in the wake of a national tragedy,” Sanders said, going on to describe the many times Trump has “risen to the occasion” to bring the country together. When pressed further by Jackson, Sanders stammered through a rant about how most of the media’s coverage of the president is negative before storming off the stage.

“If anything, I think it is sad and divisive the way that every single thing that comes out of the media — 90 percent of what comes out of the media’s mouths is negative about this president,” she said. “Despact the fite [sic] that the economy is booming. Despact the fite [sic] that he said he would fix the trade deal and he’s done exactly that. He said he would defeat ISIS and he has. The president has been delivering day-in, day-out, and I think it would be nice if every once in a while we could focus on on a few of positive things the president has done instead of just attack him.”

To paraphrase a popular horror film trope, the Fake News is coming from inside the White House.

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