(FILES) File photo dated June 2, 2017 shows White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer listening to a question during a briefing at the White House in...
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

How did Sean Spicer go from the bushes to mainstream acceptance?

Updated

A friend of mine sent me a YouTube clip a few months ago of a rap battle between CBS’s James Corden and entertainer Riz Ahmed on the “Late Late Show.” It was a fun segment, and at one point during their back and forth, Ahmed made a quick political reference.

“I speak the truth, you’re a liar,” he rapped in reference to the talk-show host. “He’s like Sean Spicer mixed with a singing Uber driver.”

Spicer was, of course, still the press secretary in Donald Trump’s White House at the time.

This, coupled with Melissa McCarthy’s brutal depiction of Spicer on “Saturday Night Live,” struck me as pretty compelling evidence that the Republican’s bizarre truth allergy had entered the national zeitgeist. Spicer was the guy who brazenly lied and hid in the bushes, and everyone knew it.

With this in mind, when Spicer resigned in July, he was effectively a national laughingstock. And yet, here we are, just two months later, watching the former presidential spokesperson gain mainstream acceptance.

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer popped up on Sunday night’s Emmy Awards to poke fun at himself. […]

Providing the punchline to a setup by host Stephen Colbert on Sunday night, Spicer rolled in on a wheeled podium – a nod to Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of him on “Saturday Night Live” – and proclaimed: “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period, both in person and around the world.”

In the lobby, the former press secretary was seen having a grand time, which apparently is becoming quite common for him. Spicer’s had fun with Jimmy Kimmel. He’s hitting the paid speaking circuit. He’s accepted a fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

In other words, Trump’s former press secretary is being rewarded for having lied to the public for months.

As strange as politics can be, this is genuinely difficult to understand. Paul Krugman has written for years about “wingnut welfare,” and the comfort that assorted conservative voices can take in knowing that no matter how much they embarrass themselves, they can probably land on their feet thanks to a network of support that exists on the far-right.

“One important pillar of conservative political dominance, I believe, is the phenomenon sometimes called ‘wingnut welfare’: loyalists are always assured of decent employment, no matter how badly they perform,” the New York Times columnist wrote in 2008.

But in Krugman’s model, conservatives who land on their feet are usually the beneficiaries of assistance from like-minded think tanks, conservative media outlets, and activist organizations. Sean Spicer, meanwhile, two months removed from public humiliation, hasn’t had to rely on “wingnut welfare” – he’s finding quite a bit of mainstream success.

My point is not to begrudge Spicer for an unnervingly successful public-relations campaign. Rather, my concern is over the emerging set of incentives: if officials, particularly in Trump’s White House, realize that they’ll face no public penalties for their misdeeds, they’ll have no reason to act responsibly.