Sarah Huckabee Sanders does not look like the kind of woman Donald Trump would choose as his chief spokesperson. Much like Roger Ailes when he was stocking the Fox News lineup with blonde Barbie dolls in short, tight skirts, the president has generally exhibited a preference for sleek beauties with long legs and stiletto heels to represent his interests and act as his arm candy.
Mr. Trump's daughter Ivanka and wife, Melania, are the apotheosis of this type. By comparison, Ms. Sanders looks more like a slightly chunky soccer mom who organizes snacks for the kids' games. Rather than the fake eyelashes and formal dresses she puts on for press briefings, Sanders seems as if she'd be more comfortable in sweats and running shoes. Yet, even if Trump privately wishes he had a supermodel for a press secretary, he is lucky to have Ms. Sanders.
I wouldn't have said that when she first got the job. In fact, I sharply disagreed with a friend of mine who expressed admiration for the way Ms. Sanders performs her duties. She is confident and unflappable, my friend said. I had trouble seeing that those strengths outweighed the fact that pretty much every statement coming out of the press secretary's mouth was a distortion of the truth.
But now I get it. Anyone who is going to be tasked with the job of explaining this president to the news media needs to be comfortable with saying things that are demonstrably not true. That was the problem with Ms. Sanders' predecessor, Sean Spicer. Lying seemed to fluster him. When he was challenged on any blatantly erroneous statement, he would get red-faced and petulant. It was as if he was trying to signal a message to reporters: "Come on, guys, lay off! Don't make me humiliate myself on live TV!"
That may be why, toward the end of Mr. Spicer's short time in the job, cameras were banned from briefings and he even conducted one exchange with reporters while huddled in the bushes outside the White House.
Ms. Sanders betrays no qualms about her role. She delivers the daily load of fibs and evasions in a flat, emotionless voice and, if questioned, keeps her cool, repeats her fallacious statements and sneers as if she hopes there is a firing squad waiting outside for the upstart journalist.
The day it was announced that Mr. Trump's former campaign boss, Paul Manafort, had been indicted by a grand jury looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and that another Trump campaign operative, George Papadopoulos, had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians -- Ms. Sanders used up several long minutes of the daily press briefing by reciting an odd, folksy parable that had something to do with the tax system. When she finally got around to questions about Manafort and Papadopoulos, she treated the news as if it centered on obscure events in a galaxy far, far away.
"Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president," Ms. Sanders said.
Meanwhile, according to reports in the Washington Post, the president was somewhere else in the executive mansion freaking out and screaming at the TV because he knew this advance in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation did, in fact, have a great deal to do with him.
Taking the offensive, Ms. Sanders confidently delivered the new Republican talking point that, if anyone were guilty of colluding with Moscow, it was Hillary Clinton -- which is the boldest evasion anyone in the Trump camp has come up with, so far.
The Russia probe began with solid information from U.S. intelligence services about a pervasive Russian disinformation campaign aimed at boosting Trump's chances to win the presidency and discredit his opponent, Hillary Clinton. That intelligence has now been reinforced by revelations from Facebook and Twitter detailing thousands of bogus messages and ads placed on social media by Russian operatives. Suspicions that the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Russians in this effort prompted the appointment of the special prosecutor and led to discovery of multiple meetings between Trump campaign officials and Russians in which the Trump folks -- including Donald Trump Jr. and Papadopoulos -- showed eagerness to get dirt on Clinton.
Now the waters have been muddied by news that the Clinton campaign had picked up where one of Trump's Republican primary opponents had left off by paying for a dossier listing Mr. Trump's numerous ties to the Russians. Mr. Trump's shrillest shill, Sean Hannity, has declared that this bit of opposition research is the scandal of the century. Mr. Trump, himself, tweeted on Sunday that "There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!" Then, he followed that up on Tuesday, asking "why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????"
This is deranged political jujitsu (Hillary Clinton is the culprit in a Russian effort to sabotage her campaign?), but it is worth noting how seamlessly Sanders worked the new canard into her presentation.
Over the years we have seen many White House press secretaries who did a good job representing the interests of their administrations. They managed to put a positive spin on things without straying too far from facts. By that standard, Ms. Sanders is a failure. But in the world of Trump, spin is in, ignorance is strength and facts are nothing more than what you want them to be. By that new standard, Ms. Sanders is a pro.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.