Anthony Scaramucci is making a decent living out of getting fired. Last summer, it took just 11 days for the 54-year-old to go from being the White House’s new communications director, to its former communications director.
The self-styled “front-stabber” was sacked by incoming White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, with the blessing of Donald Trump, over a series of remarks he made about other members of the president’s team – including Kelly’s besieged predecessor, Reince Priebus, and former White House strategist Steve Bannon – to a journalist at the New Yorker.
Trump had appointed the Republican Party donor as a barricade to the American press – a smooth yet tough talker, loyal to the cause, who could handle the perceived insurrection emanating from the “fake news” makers. But the Mooch, as he likes to be known, was quickly shown the door.
Scaramucci’s dismissal, though, has not seen him fade into obscurity. Instead, the former Goldman Sachs financier has been catapulted to a position of celebrity that he seems to be relishing.
And, as if to confirm western politics’ apparent obsession with caricature, since leaving the West Wing he has embarked on an international tour of talk shows; with hosts and audiences alike eager to know what it feels like to be told that, even by Trump’s standards, he went too far.
Following appearances on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and CNN’s New Day, the latest leg of that tour saw Scaramucci cross the pond to become the season four finale guest for Dave’s Unspun. Matt Forde, the show’s host and a former adviser to Tony Blair’s Labour government, said getting the Mooch was a “massive coup” before adding “he’s a natural communicator, a really great talker”.
He wasn’t wrong. With no interest in saving his voice, Scaramucci chatted enthusiastically to production staff, journalists and other Unspun guests in the green room at Waterloo’s South Bank Studios on Sunday, as he waited to join Forde on stage.
He didn’t turn down any requests for photos – in fact, he actively offered some – and somehow managed to shoe-horn in stories of his spell as the president of his high school’s student council, while gifting bite-size insights into “what makes a great leader” to anyone in earshot. Of his talk show tour, he told the New Statesman: “I like accepting these invitations. I think they’re fun.”
The Unspun interview itself, as expected, centred on the Mooch’s brief stint in the White House and the politics of personality that define the Trump campaign and presidency. Scaramucci explained that he had joined the Trump administration “more by accident than anything”, transitioning from “literally just a donor in the Republican Party” to a makeshift spokesman after “establishment Republicans evacuated from the Trump candidacy”, which they feared was too volatile.
“There I was one day on television and advocating for now the president. People said: ‘Ok he’s halfway decent at that, put him out there.’ That’s how it happened. If he didn’t win; if it was Jeb Bush or one of those other guys, I wouldn’t have got anywhere near the White House,” he said.
Scaramucci said that Trump’s “aggressive” campaign style should have been viewed by Republicans as an asset, rather than a liability. The former Apprentice host’s unwillingness to mince his words or dilute his ambition through diplomacy, was, Scaramucci said, a refreshing change from the “very buttoned up, very controlled politicians” that Americans were used to.
The Mooch’s dislike for discretion is clear – the “front-stabber” boast was rolled out more than once on Unspun – and his sacking came after he accused Preibus and Bannon of letting their own self-interests undermine their ability to serve the president. He told Forde that he stood by his claim that Bannon was “too busy trying to suck his own cock”, and added that he gave little thought to the correct pronunciation of Preibus’s name. “I call him rancid penis,” he said smirking.
Yet, for all the mischievous language with which Scaramucci laces his political disagreements, he insists that he doesn’t discriminate against any particular group of people. And on that subject – the Trump administration, Forde noted, has faced numerous accusations of racism, sexism and homophobia – the Mooch claimed that he was more “socially progressive” than perhaps people would expect of a Republican.
He attended Harvard Law School with Barack Obama, is a former donor to the Democratic Party, and described himself as “maybe socially left, but right-of-centre with regards to the economy”. He abandoned Obama and the Democrats, he said, when their policies became “less pro-business”.
While Scaramucci might have spun yarn about his support for gay rights and equal opportunities for minorities, the idea that he could be considered a centrist is a faint one. As he told Forde: “You should force your politicians into the middle, because that’s your best chance. You don’t want banana heads on the right and banana heads on the left.”
Scaramucci’s relationship with Trump, it is important to realise, extends far beyond his 11 days in the White House. Theirs is a friendship forged on Wall Street, spanning over two decades, and despite his firing, Scaramucci refused to be drawn into criticising the president. “He’s a gregarious guy. He’s a guy you can have a lot of fun with. He’s a likeable person.”
He dodged a question on whether Trump’s support from white supremacist groups indicated that he himself is a white supremacist with a line that the president had a “real empathy for blue-collar people”, regardless of where they’re from.
Approaching Scaramucci after the recording, he was still “happy to talk” despite running late for his flight back to America. I raised the Central Park Five case – the rape of jogger Trisha Meili in 1989 – as just one high-profile instance which could arguably prove Trump’s racism.
At the time, Trump took out full-page adverts in several daily newspapers, at a cost of around $85,000, urging the death penalty for four black teenagers and one Latino teenager accused of committing the crime. He continued to argue their guilt as recently as October 2016, more than a decade after DNA evidence had exonerated them.
The Mooch replied: “You’re trying to block me in and I appreciate why you’re trying to do that, but he’s not a racist. Could he have made a mistake with the Central Park Five? Has he made mistakes? I’ve made mistakes. He got a few things wrong over the years he’s been alive.”
Suggestions that Trump is a racist or sexist, Scaramucci went on to say, should be offset by his support among the African-American population and his commitment to diversity in recruitment. “If you look at the number of African-American pastors [who voted for Trump] and the support we have… he got way more African-American votes than Governor [Mitt] Romney did,” he said.
“He’ll hit you if you’re black, white or green. He doesn’t care. He’ll praise you if you’re black, white or green. He doesn’t care. That’s my experience with him and I’ll stick to that. I don’t think the guy is racist at all,” Scaramucci added. “He appointed a woman as his campaign manager [in Kellyanne Conway] and he [nominated] a woman [in Gina Haspel] to be head of the CIA. This guy is more into talent than he is into identity politics.”
That the Mooch’s affection for the president hasn’t waned even in the light of his sacking, and his equal parts smarm and charm, make him one of the most morbidly fascinating side-characters of the whole Trump story.
To watch Matt Forde’s extended interview with Anthony Scaramucci, tune into Unspun XL on Wednesday 21st March at 11pm on Dave.