If Sean Spicer Quits, He Wouldn't Be The First Press Secretary To Do So

by Cate Carrejo
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The fate of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reportedly hangs in the balance. Spicer has had a rocky six months in the position — in part due to gaffes including referring to concentrations camps as "Holocaust centers" and wrongly asserting that President Trump's inauguration turnout was "the largest audience...ever" — and stepping away could do both him and the administration plenty of good. White House press secretaries quit their jobs pretty frequently, so if Spicer does step down, he wouldn't be the first to do so.

Press secretaries have typically quit their posts on good terms with the administration. Only five of Spicer's predecessors have served through the entire term of their president, and in general, the White House actually has a relatively high rate of turnover among staff, according to former Clinton and Bush administration officials. The intense hours and stressful nature of the work leads to over-exhaustion, and government salaries capped at $180,000 make staffers susceptible to poaching by high-profile corporations.

"There is a burnout phase, and very few that remain an entire two terms," Anita McBride, former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush and special assistant for White House Management under President George W. Bush, told The Huffington Post. "Either you have fulfilled what you can contribute to the overall agenda, you’re just pure and simple tired, or financially you can’t afford to do it anymore."

President Obama actually went through three press secretaries in his eight years — Robert Gibbs, who left in 2011; Jay Carney, who served from 2011 to 2013; and Josh Earnest, who finished out the second term. Obama spoke highly of both Gibbs and Carney when they stepped down from the position, calling Carney "one of [his] closest friends" and telling a funny story about stealing Gibbs' tie for the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Gibbs, Carney, and Earnest have all gone on to lucrative jobs in the private sector, at McDonalds, Amazon, and NBC News respectively.

All that being said, the staff changes within the Trump administration haven't been exactly normal, and Spicer's exit probably won't be either, if it ends up happening. Donald Trump has reportedly been frustrated with Spicer for months for various missteps, as well as things outside his control. According to POLITICO, Spicer and Trump's relationship reportedly cooled after Melissa McCarthy spoofed the press secretary on Saturday Night Live in February, in part because Spicer was portrayed by a woman. CNN also reported that Trump regretted hiring Spicer, and more recently, The Washington Post reported that Spicer, a practicing Catholic, was intentionally excluded from meeting the Pope during Trump's trip to Vatican City in May.

Though Spicer has become one of the more empathetic figures in the Trump administration, the focus on his fate feels a little misdirected. The press secretary is supposed to be a vessel for the administration's message to the people, so it doesn't matter too much who gives the briefings. Plus, Spicer may not end up leaving the White House altogether — or even the press briefing podium at all.