BAR HARBOR — “New Yorker” magazine Reporter Ryan Lizza was having a lobster roll lunch at a Bar Harbor restaurant on Monday when he learned that Anthony Scaramucci had been fired after only 10 days as White House communications director.
A few hours later, at the first session of the weeklong Champlain Institute forum on the state of American democracy at College of the Atlantic (COA), Lizza talked about the now-famous call he received July 26 from Scaramucci – and the article he wrote about it – that apparently was a major factor in Scaramucci’s dismissal.
Lizza is Washington correspondent for “The New Yorker” magazine and a CNN commentator.
He told the overflow crowd at COA’s Gates Auditorium that his phone conversation with Scaramucci, who described other White House officials, including Steve Bannon, in vulgar terms, was “the most insane I’ve had with a senior government official in 20 years of reporting on Washington.”
“I take no pleasure in someone getting fired,” Lizza said. “”But my job is not to hire and fire. My job is to explain these people to the public. It was important to know what the communications director thought.”
Just moments before taking the stage at COA, Lizza filed an article for “The New Yorker” website about Scaramucci’s ouster and the possibility that it might indicate that new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has more clout with the President Donald Trump than his predecessor did and can impose more staff discipline.
“This may be a person that maybe Trump respects and listens to a little bit more,” Lizza told the COA audience.
That, he suggested, would be a welcome change from Trump’s management style, which he said might be called “the Lord of the Flies model,” referring to the dystopian novel in which a group of boys stranded on an island savagely turn on each other.
Every new president faces a learning curve, but with Trump, “I don’t see a lot of learning yet,” said Lizza in his talk on Monday.
“It seems to be getting more dysfunctional and worse in terms of ability to govern and his understanding of the job,” Lizza said.
“It’s like someone who is playing the part of the president but hasn’t quite grasped that he’s in charge now. He talks about Washington and other Republicans as if it’s something he’s not actually … part of. You see it when he talks about intelligence as if he doesn’t have access to the world’s greatest intelligence agencies.”
Lizza said one White House “fiefdom” is led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. Another is led by Bannon, and, until last week, a third was led by Priebus.
“If two fiefdoms agree on something against one, they win. So, they had this constant series of strategic alliances … . Amazingly, [Trump] added an entirely new warlord to the system when he hired Anthony Scaramucci to be communications director.”
Turning to Congress’s apparent inability to pass important legislation, Lizza said, “This is really hard for me to say as a journalist, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the reason Congress can’t pass bipartisan legislation is because there’s so much visibility into the process.
“The reporter’s job is to open up that process in real time now, on Twitter and on TV. That is actually making it harder for legislators to do anything.
“If you’re a legislator, you need space to negotiate, space to say things in private, and that space is really very rare these days.”
Lizza’s remarks at COA were in an onstage conversation with Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center. Rosen is the moderator for this week’s Champlain Institute events.
Updated on Wednesday, Aug. 2, at 11:05 a.m.