We read Stephanie Grisham's Trump book. Here's what she said about Arizona.
The former Arizona politics spokeswoman and Trump press secretary focuses her book on the White House, but our state got some mentions. This isn't a book review.
We read the new tell-all book by Stephanie Grisham, a former Arizona spokeswoman who became the only White House press secretary to never hold a press conference.
This should come as no surprise — we’ve been talking about the book, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now,” in our morning newsletters for a while now. Grisham was well-known among Arizona reporters and the news-reading public during her time here, so we felt compelled to read it. In short, she is to the Arizona Agenda what Meghan McCain is to the Republic. We’re utterly fascinated.
We’re not going to do a book review or anything so formal, but here are some overall thoughts, all the times Arizona got a mention, some funny shit, some weird shit, some new nicknames and what we learned about taking responsibility (or not taking it). We asked Grisham to talk with us about the book, but she declined. The offer still stands, though.
If enough of you are interested, we can do a book club for this book via Zoom. Let us know in the comments!
Grisham’s voice and wit shine throughout the book, which is an easy, entertaining read. The narrative hangs on her personal experience as a D.C. outsider ingratiating herself to the first family and climbing the ranks in the most chaotic administration in modern history. And just like Grisham, the reader doesn’t need a lot of background to get through four years at the White House.
For example, at the beginning of a chapter about Melania’s infamous “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” jacket, she starts with: “Well, fuck. No other way to say it. What a shitty day this turned out to be.” That’s the sailor we know!
The White House was a toxic environment and Grisham contributed to that toxicity on a regular basis. She concluded she got “cocky” about having power and focused more on survival than whether her actions were right or wrong.
She was glad to never be tasked with holding a press conference because she knew Trump would force her to lie or say something “batshit” crazy — which she felt was something of a fealty test for her predecessors.
She felt genuine affection for the first family, but is over it, writing, “I liked them and I disliked them and I miss them and I hope I never see them again.”
Most of the big stories from the book have already been detailed by the national press, so we won’t repeat those. The Associated Press has a nice rundown of the big takeaways. You can read about Trump being creepy to a pretty aide, Melania Trump sleeping through election night, how he defended his penis to Grisham after Stormy Daniels dissed it, the toxic culture of the Trump workplace, Trump’s penchant for dictators, the story behind the jacket.
Where is Grisham now? She’s been living in Kansas, near her sister, with a French bulldog named Ben, and renovated a house herself as an escape from the swamp.
All the times Arizona was mentioned
Like we mentioned, Grisham worked in Arizona politics before going up to the big leagues. And Hank had a friendly but complicated relationship with Grisham when he covered the Arizona House of Representatives for the Arizona Capitol Times. She was tasked with enacting House Speaker David Gowan’s plan to kick Hank out of the House after a round of critical stories that required Gowan to pay back roughly $12,000 in illegitimate expenses he'd claimed while campaigning for higher office.
In fact, Trump was also obsessed with the idea of kicking the press out of the White House, and tasked Grisham with carrying out his bad idea. She notes there’s no law that requires media to be allowed in the White House, calling the press “squatters,” though there’s a 1977 court case to allow them continued access. If Trump tried to kick out reporters, the White House would likely be sued and lose, she concluded, though she strung the president along by saying she was still researching it.
“(I)t was the longest (and most successful) stall tactic I have ever used on someone I worked for — who also happened to be the most powerful man in the world.”
On her press-wrangling credentials: Trump was surprised at Grisham’s ability to handle reporters, she said. She mentions she worked as wrangler for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in 2012 and as press secretary for the “Arizona attorney general, followed by the Speaker of the House” though neither is named. She was a spokesman to former Attorney General Tom Horne and Gowan, the former House speaker, both of whom faced their share of scandals.
On her DUIs, which came up as she got offered a job as deputy press secretary: “Reporters and Democrats would not care that five years prior, I had not noticed the speed limit change from forty-five to thirty-five miles per hour and had been pulled over and admitted to having drunk two glasses of wine, which had resulted in a reckless driving charge. They wouldn't care that Arizona has the strictest DUI laws in the country1 (which I have no objection to). And certainly no one would believe the story of the second incident, which was that I had been at a Christmas party for work and was moving my car to a parking lot so someone else could drive me home. In the time it took to back out of the street parking and drive across the street, a policeman noticed that my headlights weren’t on and pulled me over — ironically in the parking lot I had intended to keep my car in for the night.”
While on a visit to Mar-A-Lago with a Chinese delegation: She was seated next to a Chinese staffer who “knew the names of my family, what jobs I had held in Arizona, and which street I’d lived on.”
On immigration and the complexity of getting it right: “I worked for the attorney general in Arizona and lived in a border state for almost twenty years, so I know that illegal immigration is a tough issue and will be difficult for any administration, no matter what side of the aisle it’s on, to solve.”
On the late U.S. Sen. McCain and how the president’s feuds affected state funerals: “In McCain’s case, the president hadn’t even wanted to order the nation’s flags to be lowered to half-staff. It was Ivanka who convinced him to do it, in the end, which was the right thing to do. But of course she took it too far when she and Jared then showed up to the senator’s funeral, where they weren’t exactly welcome.”
Can confirm: “I’d always hung a picture of the White House in the offices of previous jobs I’d held so that I could stay focused on where I ultimately wanted to be.”
When Trump didn’t like someone’s arms: “On still another occasion, he asked me to reach out to a prominent Trump supporter in Arizona. He wanted me to advise her to no longer wear sleeveless dresses and tops, saying they weren’t flattering to her and it wasn’t ‘a good look.’ ‘You talk to her, though,’ he said. ‘I can’t with MeToo and all.’”
During the first impeachment, about struggles between lawyers and comms people: “Having worked for the Arizona attorney general years before, I fully understood the dynamic that was unfolding. Lawyers just want to win the case, and they are trained to be cautious about sharing information. Meanwhile, communications people want to win in the court of public opinion, which means giving people accurate and honest information but in a strategic way.”
Coverage of her negative comments on John Kelly, which she says were written by Trump and one of her biggest regrets: “A veteran columnist at my hometown paper, the Arizona Republic, observed, ‘To suggest that a man like Kelly was ‘unequipped to handle the genius’ of Trump is not just proof that Grisham is hooked on the president’s Kool-Aid. It’s proof that she’s OD-ed.’” (This is from an EJ Montini column.)
How Melania rarely left the White House in 2020: “At one point we tried to get her interested in Native American issues and taking a trip to Arizona — another state crucial to the president’s reelection.”
About an election night scramble over what Trump should say: “Half the group was telling him to go out and lambaste Fox News for calling Arizona earlier in the evening, attack the media working on behalf of Biden, and talk about voter fraud and the election being stolen.”
The new nicknames we learned
Slim Reaper: This refers to Jared Kushner, whom Grisham devoted a lot of angry ink to in her book. He would butt into topics he knew nothing about regularly and leave others to deal with the mess afterward.
The Princess: This refers to Ivanka Trump, whom Grisham also wasn’t a fan of, and who essentially viewed herself as American royalty.
The Interns: This refers to both Jared and Ivanka. “Because they dabbled in a bit of everything and could be precocious and self-absorbed, we in the East Wing dubbed them ‘the interns,’ and the nickname stuck,” Grisham wrote.
Muse: Melania’s official Secret Service nickname.
Rapunzel: Melania’s unofficial Secret Service nickname, chosen for her propensity toward staying in her tower all day.
Music Man: This refers to Max Miller, a Trump aide, who would often play Trump’s favorite songs to him to help him calm down. One of those songs was “Memory” from the musical Cats. Though she never names him in the book, Grisham dated Miller and alleges he was abusive in their relationship. Miller is now suing Grisham while running for Congress in Ohio.
On following the rules
Everyone loves freebies: Staff rooms on a trip to Saudi Arabia were paid for by the Saudi government, which they later found out was against federal anti-corruption laws. “At the time we didn’t know, or maybe didn’t care, that it wasn’t allowed …”
She’s no expert: Nothing in the Ukraine call transcript that led to Trump’s first impeachment stood out to her as a problem, which she attributes to the bunker mindset of the Trump White House and having seen the president say wild stuff to lots of other foreign leaders.
What she thinks about the media
Grisham’s thoughts on the press: “I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to accurately describe all that I did on behalf of the press, nor will I be able to accurately describe the demands the press made on my teams or the frustration we felt almost every day when they seized on pointless stories such as the president stumbling on a ramp or the false and hateful profiles done about members of the senior staff — including me.”
On the phrase “speaking truth to power”: “(T)o this day I don’t like that phrase. In reality, many of (the instant stars) were far easier to work with in private than their public personas suggested and would even agree with many of the points I made to them in my office or on the phone. Indeed, some of the most outspoken or seemingly aggressive reporters were kind and reasonable people behind closed doors.”
And we’ll end on a note that, perhaps, we inspired.
When she first landed the job as press secretary, Hank told the New York Times that Grisham “has a reputation as someone who puts out fires. But she starts a number of fires herself.” In the book, Grisham seems to concede that point. “In an administration careening from critics to crisis, the best way to look good was to be seen as putting out fires — even if you’d lit them yourself,” she wrote, though she was referring to a colleague, not herself.