If all you do is read the quote, you might think Spicer was making this point seriously — that after months of Trump questioning the actual unemployment rate on the campaign trail, at one point even suggesting it might be as high as 42 percent(!!), he suddenly turned on a dime and decided to accept the official figure so long as it was good news for him politically, which today’s data was. That would be the mirror image of his (apparently serious) point a few weeks ago that “any negative polls are fake news.” If there’s news out there that’s bad for him, however credible it may be, it’s not to be believed. Conversely, if there’s news out there that’s good for him, you can take that to the bank. That’s the Trump worldview in a nutshell.
But Spicer’s not making this point seriously. He and Trump are winking at how blatantly opportunistic it is to decide that a good jobs report can be trusted purely because it’s good. The whole press corps laughs with them. It’s a smart PR strategy for spinning prior contradictions, really. People understand by now that Trump’s understanding of “good” and “bad” boils down to “good for Trump” versus “bad for Trump.” Using humor to acknowledge that will disarm some critics by showing them that he’s in on the joke.
But not all critics:
"We tried to deligitimize data that world markets rely upon. Now we're not. Get it?"
Audience: Uproarious laughter
— Dan Primack (@danprimack) March 10, 2017
Hard to imagine conservative media laughing along with Josh Earnest in an analogous example involving Obama, admittedly. I think Benjy Sarlin’s right that this is further evidence of how the public has adjusted its expectations for presidential pronouncements under Trump. If Obama had accused Bush of having wiretapped him during the campaign, that would be a very big deal for both sides. Trump accusing Obama of wiretapping him, though, is interpreted through a filter of accusations over the past six years about birth certificates and the size of his inauguration crowd and massive voter fraud by illegals on election day and a 42 percent unemployment rate, etc etc. People know that he shoots from the hip and seem to have concluded that he shouldn’t be held to the usual standards of accuracy in his statements because of it. (How does that saying go? Take him “seriously but not literally”?) That being so, it’s not a surprise that more people believe Obama about a sensational charge than believe Trump. That’s what happens when you get a reputation as a loose cannon. But as you see in the reaction to Spicer’s comment, it also gives you more leeway in walking back something you said previously. The reporters laugh because it’s just Trump being Trump.
Here’s today’s clip followed by a fact-check from last February of Trump’s goofy 42 percent figure. Most Republicans who questioned the official unemployment rate under Obama took to citing the U-6 rate instead, which, unlike the more publicized U-3 rate, includes people who’ve given up looking for work. The U-3 rate a year into Obama’s presidency was 9.8 percent whereas the “real” unemployment rate, the U-6, was a whopping 16.7 percent. (Both rates have dropped considerably since then, of course, although today’s U-6 rate of 9.2 percent is still nearly double the “official” U-3 rate of 4.7.) Trump being Trump, though, even the U-6 rate wasn’t gaudy enough for him on the trail. If you’re going to exaggerate, make sure it’s a memorable exaggeration. Result: 42 percent. He won, didn’t he?
VIDEO of Spicer quoting Trump on jobs reports: "They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now." pic.twitter.com/ewpXW0n6uC
— Axios (@axios) March 10, 2017