By HOWARD POLSKIN, February 19, 2019
It’s easy to peg Cliff Sims as snake in the grass for writing the exposè “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House.” The Alabama native joined the campaign before Trump got elected and quickly began enjoying one-on-one access with the novice politician who often sought his advice (see selection; Sessions, Jeff). After the election Sims was appointed to the ridiculously named mid-level position of Director of White House Message Strategy and Special Assistant to the President. He might as well be named dietician to Chris Christie or hair stylist to Kim Jong-un. These are undoable jobs.
Sims comes across as an ambitious son of the South who loved praying, conservative politics and SEC football. When he worked Saturdays, he insisted that a nearby television had to be tuned into a channel beaming in his beloved University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide football games. But Sims was no slouch. He founded the Alabama news site Yellowhammer about seven years ago and built it into a reputable source of news and information about the state. At Yellowhammer, Sims broke major stories, conducted an interview as a journalist with then-candidate Trump and forged such a tight relationship with Jeff Sessions that on election night when Trump’s ascendancy to President became official, he hugged Sessions and his wife.
Sims does a good job taking the reader into the bowels of the White House – and I mean that in every sense of the word. He gives readers a front row seat to many aspects of the Trump administration’s poop party. By far the most riveting part of “Viper” is Sims’ extraordinary exposition of the nail-biting hours leading up to Sean Spicer’s first press conference after the inauguration. If you ever wondered what the hell administration officials were thinking before an ill-prepared and a poorly dressed Spicer staggered onto the global stage that fateful day in January 2017, this narrative will answer all your questions.
Spicer gets most of Sims’ venom in “Viper” and those sections about the former press secretary will warm the hearts of never-Trumpers. It will be the finest hate-read of 2019 for anyone who gagged uncontrollably whenever Spicer appeared on camera on behalf of Trump. Sims apparently had many reasons to dislike his former boss including the fact that Spicer chiseled Sims out of $30,000 in annual salary when he arrived in town ready to work. John Kelly and Kellyanne Conway also get their reputations torpedoed by Sims. Sims has more flattering things to say about Hope Hicks, Rob Porter and Anthony Scaramucci who comes across as a colorful character dropped in from an MTV reality show.
Almost all of the major characters in the Trump reality show have their moments in “Vipers” including Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Jared Kushner and Paul Ryan who stars in particularly humiliating scene. Sadly, Sims offers no insights into the mind Vice President Pence. Is he quietly waiting for his moment? Does he think Trump the buffoon? A lustful heathen and sinner? We never find out.
Sims was no fan of Trump’s position that journalists were the enemy of the people. But ultimately, he pulls his punches a bit characterizing the President as someone with extraordinary talents and stunning shortcomings. That’s a disappointingly wishy-washy assessment from a man who had regular access to the most disturbingly controversial president in our nation’s history.
“Vipers” could have been stronger with a more insight and revelations about Trump and his family, but we’ll leave that for another snake who slithers out of the grass at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For now, “Vipers” has enough bite to inform and entertain readers no matter if they lean right or left.
“Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House”
By Cliff Sims
St. Martin’s Press
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