What Cain and Abel Tell Us About the War Between Priebus and Scaramucci

Scaramucci’s off-the-cuff biblical reference is full of interpretive possibilities.

Given the widely reported tensions between the two emerging West Wing rivals, most commentators quickly pointed out that Scaramucci’s Old Testament reference looks like a pretty direct threat to his “brother”: After all, in Genesis, Cain kills Abel.

.. But it’s not really a great analogy for him, either. This isn’t a story about crime and punishment, where Abel gets what’s coming to him. It’s a story about entirely unjustified premeditated murder.

.. It’s hard to imagine that Scaramucci wouldn’t similarly be viewed by some in the White House and the Republican Party as a hatchetman if Priebus gets the ax. In getting rid of one enemy, you often make many others.

.. One place where the parallel with the biblical story is pretty apt, though, is in the rationale for Cain’s murder of Abel: jealousy.

.. Scaramucci’s original grievance with Priebus, even before the leaks, was reportedly that Priebus had contrived to keep Scaramucci out of the White House. The root cause of both the biblical story and the drama in the administration is basically the same: Favoritism is fickle.

.. “I’m more of a front-stabbing person.” When Cain kills Abel, he never verbalizes his anger, which is why Abel never sees it coming. Priebus has gotten more warning than Abel ever did—so he might be smart enough not to go out into the field with his brother, and find himself on the wrong end of the knife.

.. Abel, by contrast, is virtually a ghost. His name in Hebrew even means “nothingness.” He never speaks, he never communicates with God, he never makes a choice. He’s there only to die, which he dutifully does. In this media-driven society, lots of people have made the basic reckoning that fame, even if it’s infamy, beats being ignored. Scaramucci is, if nothing else, savvy about the power of the media.

.. If Scaramucci sees himself as Abel, then he could have in mind that Priebus had tried to kill his earlier attempts to join the administration. Even better is the punishment that Cain has to endure: He is not sentenced to death for killing Abel, but is doomed to wander the earth, friendless. That sounds a lot like what Scaramucci might want for Priebus: banished from the Oval Office, stripped of his influence and forced to roam the sets of whatever cable news shows will take him in.

.. The Cain and Abel story is almost always read, with justification, as a statement about the corrupting influence of jealousy on the human heart, and on the power of sin to overtake our intentions.

.. Biblical scholars have also often pointed to this story as a depiction of an early conflict between pastoralists like Abel—that is, shepherds—and agriculturalists like Cain, which is to say, farmers. So too the Scaramucci/Priebus drama is really about something bigger: The conflict between traditional Republican politics and the new Trumpian attitude. It could also represent the clash of styles between Priebus’ aw-shucks Midwesternism and Scaramucci’s New York brashness


Who Is Anthony Scaramucci?

The Wall Street financier and former Obama donor once called then-candidate Trump “a hack politician,” a big-mouthed “bully,” and “an inherited money dude from Queens County” and backed two other Republican presidential contenders, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, before embracing Trump as the party’s nominee.

.. Nearly two years later, Scaramucci, 52, is one of Trump’s most aggressive television surrogates

.. After a 90-minute meeting with the candidate at Trump Tower in June 2016, Scaramucci was fully onboard and soon praised Trump as “a results-oriented entrepreneur capable of delivering bipartisan solutions to common-sense problems.”

..  over the years he’s ably displayed his ability to communicate on television—a skill that Trump holds in high regard. The other attitudes the president values most are loyalty and a willingness to fight

.. the president was particularly impressed with Scaramucci’s success in winning a retraction from CNN after the network reported he was under Senate investigation for links to a Russian bank.

.. the president was particularly impressed with Scaramucci’s success in winning a retraction from CNN after the network reported he was under Senate investigation for links to a Russian bank.

  • the business-first ethos of the Wall Street veterans in the White House while clashing with
  • GOP stalwarts like Priebus and Sean Spicer

.. he was a fan of Hillary Clinton before she ran for president last year.

.. Scaramucci was angry that Trump had called for a tax increase on hedge fund managers. “He’s a hack politician,” Scaramucci began. He continued:

The Latest Voice at the Lectern: An Effusive New Yorker

Where Ms. Sanders tends to the dry and sardonic, Mr. Scaramucci is over the top.

.. The uneasy alliance between Mr. Scaramucci and Ms. Sanders will help determine the fate of Mr. Trump’s efforts to reboot his message and survive amid the escalating scandals engulfing his presidency.

The pair represent the competing power centers still vying inside Mr. Trump’s West Wing:

  • Ms. Sanders, the Southern-drawling, workmanlike political operative installed by Mr. Priebus; and
  • Mr. Scaramucci, the gregarious New York hedge fund manager who has grown close with the Trump family and is new to politics.

.. Telegenic and smooth-talking, he was an eager face of the Trump campaign on television and in the halls of Trump Tower, bringing a brash style and disarming humor to his tussles with reporters.

.. A mother of three young children whom she often mentions in tense moments in the White House briefing room, she inherited her father’s folksy style, his Christian conservatism and his biting sarcasm.

“If you want to see chaos,” she told a reporter on Friday, when asked about the West Wing turmoil, “you should come to my house early in the morning, when my three kids are running around. That’s chaos; this is nothing.”

.. there’s a New York-versus-Washington dichotomy here, New York is winning

..  it was left to Mr. Scaramucci, not the president, to announce that Ms. Sanders would be his new press secretary. The slight did not go unnoticed by veteran communicators, who said it could undercut her at the outset.

.. “It would have been appropriate for him to announce Sarah,” said Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary for President George W. Bush. “It empowers her, it sends the message that the president appointed her, he’s standing next to her, and that signal was not there.”

.. While Mr. Trump all but invented the “fake news” moniker himself, some of his advisers, including Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, have told him that he cannot afford to have a spokeswoman who has such a poisonous relationship with reporters. That was one of the reasons that Mr. Scaramucci was brought on.

.. “He’s very slick and smooth,” said Jennifer Palmieri, another of Mr. Obama’s communications directors. “This removes any ruse that this is a White House that will operate under the transparent standard we expect for a democracy. Instead, it will operate like a country with ministers of propaganda, not press secretaries.”

.. “If the president thinks he’s surrounded by good people fighting for him, defending him and doing a really good job at it, then the president won’t feel the need to push boundaries himself and make the mistakes that he’s made on Twitter,” Mr. Fleischer said.

.. Mr. Scaramucci wished Mr. Spicer well in a distinctly New York style.

“I love the guy,” he said. “And I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money.”