Tonight is the first Republican presidential debate, where eight candidates will square off in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Who has the most to gain and most to lose? And what topics will dominate the debate?
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, host of “The Sean Spicer Show,” spoke to The Daily Signal about what he’ll be watching and why his old boss—former President Donald Trump—opted to do an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson instead.
Spicer launched his new show this week to coincide with the GOP debate. After publishing bestselling books and hosting “Spicer & Co.” on Newsmax, he’s now betting on independent media. Listen to the interview or read an edited transcript below.
Rob Bluey: Congratulations! I watched the first episode on YouTube and I’m one of your early subscribers. I encourage our Daily Signal audience to do the same. Fantastic show.
I want to get into the details of your first show—what you heard on the ground there at the Iowa State Fair—but first tell me why, after a successful run at Newsmax, you decided to launch an independent media brand?
Sean Spicer: This is the wave of the future, Rob. I enjoyed my time, but corporate media has a structure. …
People always used to tell me they wanted me to do something on the show. And I said, “Yes, it’s got my name on it,” it was called “Spicer & Co.,” but it wasn’t my show. It was owned by the network. They could tell me what to cover, what not to cover, who to have, who not to have. And again, that’s how it works. I’m not complaining. It’s just reality.
Going into this election cycle, where I’ve been at this for 30 years, being able to offer people insight into what’s happening, why it’s happening, how we can do so many of the things you guys at Heritage talk about and protect and get those policies implemented, I thought it could be done through independent media a lot more effectively
Look at the wave of the future—Tucker Carlson, Tim Pool, Dave Rubin, Liz Wheeler, Dana Loesch—they’re all out there having conversations in a way that you can’t necessarily have in a corporate structure.
And I looked at that and said, “I think this is where it’s going.” You’ve got 32% of Americans now that have a cable or a satellite subscription. That’s it. It’s a dying medium. And my thought was, I’d like to get ahead of the curve. And no better time than an election cycle. … I’ve done two presidential cycles. I did my first campaign in the “Contract with America” in 1994. So I feel like I can explain this.
I yell at the TV when I’m watching these cable pundits, “That’s not how it works. That won’t work. That’s not effective. … You can’t execute what you just said in a realistic manner.”
So part of this was to be able to have a show where I can pull from that insight, bring in guests. For example, the day after the debate, we’ve already lined up with three operatives that are part of campaigns.
You can have pundits all day long tell you what they think is going to happen. My thought was, why don’t we get people who are actually going to execute on what happens in that debate and ask them, “Hey, you had a viral moment last night. What does that mean for you? How much do you anticipate a bounce, etc., etc.?”
So I looked at it and said I had an opportunity to go out and do something that I thought was more effective.
Bluey: Who is your target audience?
Spicer: If you care about politics and elections and winning, then this is the show for you. I’m not talking about existential stuff. This to me is, let’s get in the weeds. Let’s talk about the strategies the campaigns are using. Let’s talk about the debates. Let’s talk about the caucuses, the conventions, the primaries, the race for 270.
But I tell people all the time why they shouldn’t pay attention to national polls. This election’s coming down to eight states. Here they are. Here’s what’s being done to win them. Here’s what we need to be on our lookout for.
But too often, I’m throwing stuff at the television because the reporters that cover this, they really don’t know what they’re doing.
They know as much as I do about cardiothoracic surgery, which, aside from watching an episode of “ER,” is not much.
So part of what I want to do is bring people the inside look at a campaign.
I ran the debate cycle for the [Republican National Committee] in 2015, the first time ever that a party ever actually controlled its primary process debates ever.
And you hear pundits now talk on television as if that was always the norm. It wasn’t until we did that for the first time in the 2015 debate. No party, the RNC and the [Democratic National Committee], had ever controlled it.
So I can actually bring insight into what it’s like to run a debate that no one else that will be there today on television has done. No one. There is no one that’s going to go on television, cable news or any other show, that can say, “This is what it takes.”
I did all of them for the RNC and worked with every one of the networks to pull it off. I can tell you what’s going on right now behind the scenes. And I look at that and say, “Hey, let’s have that conversation, because no one else has.” And I think I can bring people a very unique perspective to the cycle from so many different angles.
Like I said, I got friends of mine that can talk sports all day long, Rob. They can tell you batting averages, shot percentages, field goal percentages, who’s up, who’s down, trades.
I’m a fair-weather fan. I love the Red Sox, the Patriots, whatever. But that’s not my wheelhouse. Politics, government, that’s what I know like the back of my hand and I felt like this was the right cycle to jump in and explain it to people.
And frankly, the best part is when I get feedback from people, and whether they’re on my website or Locals, which is like conservative Substack, people will say, “I really want to hear more of this.” And it’s like, “Great, let’s talk about it.”
When we do the show before the debate and then after the debate, it’ll be based on questions that people think that they’re interested in knowing, how things went down.
And I can give a perspective that I was the guy that coordinated with Donald Trump for all of his debates. … I can’t say I know everything that’s going on in his thinking, because anyone who tells you that’s a liar, but I can give you some sense of what it’s going to take for these candidates.
Bluey: It is fantastic to have your voice in the mix. We are thrilled that you’re doing this.
One of the things that I appreciate, at least in your early episodes, is you’re getting outside of Washington, you’re talking to real people, you are at the Iowa State Fair. So what’s the buzz in Iowa? What are you hearing there in Wisconsin ahead of this debate? What’s on the minds of voters?
Spicer: There’s a big difference between the mind of the media and what they want and what the voters want.
And what I found both out in Iowa and out here in Milwaukee is that there’s a high degree of interest, I think that there’s no question that Trump is the 800-pound gorilla.
There are people willing to listen to another argument, but especially here in Milwaukee, ahead of the debate, I think that it’s fascinating. Trump is not going to physically be here, but his presence is everywhere. That’s all everyone’s talking about. What impact does he have? How are the candidates going to address or not?
Trump, tomorrow night, especially heading into this Fulton County DA issue, there’s going to be a lot of questions about how every one of these candidates positions themselves vis-a-vis Trump and an attempt to grow voters.
… And same thing when I was at the State Fair. I talked to a lot of the Iowa elected officials, I talked to a lot of the fairgoers, trying to get their perspective because it’s amazing, when you actually get outside the Beltway, as you put it, and talk to people about what you think they’re supposed to be saying. Because you listen to some of the pundits and read, you know, Politico and The New York Times, it’s amazing what the reality is versus what they tell you it is.
Bluey: You posed a question to your subscribers about who would get more views, the Fox debate or Donald Trump’s interview with Tucker Carlson. I couldn’t help but notice 80% of your respondents said that Trump would dominate on Wednesday night.
So what’s going into his thinking? As you mentioned, you worked closely with him, not only in the White House but before he was elected president. Why did he decide to opt out of this debate and do this alternative programming?
Spicer: First, I will say this, I think it’s not just the first debate. I think there’s no question the second debate on Sept. 27 at the Reagan Library, he’s out of that one as well. Whether he keeps going, we’ll see. But I think it’s plain and simple.
Again, this gets back to what I was just saying a minute ago, Rob. The media wants him there because they want to see a fight. They want ratings.
The reality is, Donald Trump on the low end is about 50% in national polls for the primary and as high as closer to 60%. And then in the early states—which really matters, because at the end of the day, this is a delegate race—Nevada or South Carolina, Trump is anywhere from the mid- to high 40s to well over 50%.
A lot of the candidates that are going to be on the stage [Wednesday] night, let’s be honest, have to wear a name tag because no one knows who the heck they are. And from a Trump standpoint, if you think about this in like a boxing mentality, [he] is the champ. The heavyweight title going to fight the guy that just got into the ring? No, he’s going to wait until he moves himself up.
Trump will have to debate at some point down the road. But right now, sitting on a stage with eight other people that have to wear name tags for you to know who they are because they barely qualify. Strategically speaking, take Trump out of this. Anybody that did that, I would have advised them against it. And so that’s No. 1.
No. 2, I think there’s a little bit of a of a counterprogramming piece to this, which is he wants to needle Fox News a little bit, take Tucker, do an event that kind of just shows them, hey, you can’t do this without me.
And I do think that the media is going to try to underplay how Trump does on Twitter and say, “Oh, you can’t count the same.” But let’s be honest. And this, again, is where I can bring the expertise into this. …
Rating networks or cable networks, they use Nielsen. Nielsen says we put a box in a house and then say that every person who has a box and is on a station, that counts for 25,000 other people. That’s a guess.
So them trying to claim that they have some proven scientific method is ridiculous. They’re going to try to claim that whatever Trump’s number is on Twitter with Tucker isn’t the equivalent. And while that may be somewhat true, the reality is that I think he will far outdo the overall eyeballs. It’s probably a better way of putting it than the Fox debate.
Bluey: As an astute political observer, what are the things that they should be watching? You mentioned the eight candidates. Obviously, there are a few that are household names at this point among Republicans. There are a few that are looking to really make their moment. What should we be paying attention to?
Spicer: I think the strategy is going to be the key thing. Do they come out, if you’re at 1% and 2% and 3%, are you coming out of the gate trying to increase your name ID and have people come away with a positive sense of who you are?
Let me give you the example. I think Chris Christie has made it very clear he’s got the kamikaze mission going where he’s just going to come in and go at Trump.
Here’s my take on this, strategically speaking. If Christie comes in, and let’s just say for hypothetical purposes, that he’s the most effective takedown of Donald Trump ever in the world. He takes down Trump. There is no guarantee that he’s the beneficiary of that.
So everybody says, “Hey, I agree with you, Chris Christie. Donald Trump is a horrible candidate. I’ll never vote for him.” So you’ve made the case. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to vote for Chris Christie. There’s seven other people on that stage that could go down for him.
So I would argue to a candidate, even if you come out swinging against Trump, has that benefited you? No. 1.
No. 2, conversely, if you come out and make the case for yourself, and you’re at 2%, and a bunch of people say, “I like you,” and you double that from 2% to 4%, you’ve probably guaranteed you—because if you make the case about you, your accomplishments, your vision for the future, your policy, and people agree with you, then they are going to benefit, it will benefit you.
So I would argue, strategically speaking, it benefits Trump a lot more than it benefits, it helps them much more than it does going after Trump.
And so, again, we’ll see. … The media has tried to sell a lot of these people that the answer is to really go after Trump. And I think that’s because that’s who they want.
Bluey: With that being said, which candidates have the most to gain and who has the most to lose coming out of this Wednesday night?
Spicer: Great question. Let me put it into three tiers.
No. 1, I think [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis has the most to lose. He has an opportunity to come out and reassure donors in particular—because that’s really what this is about for him—that he’s got their message, he’s going to refocus, etc. So that’s No. 1.
No. 2 is, I think [Vivek] Ramaswamy is the guy that I want to keep an eye on right now, tomorrow night to see. He is focused on a very positive message of vision for the country that’s devoid of attacking Donald Trump.
And again, the key thing to keep in mind is that when you’re at 4%, if you double yourself, if you get twice as much support, you’re only at six. But I think these guys realize it’s baby steps to 10% or 15%.
So I think those are the three categories that I look at. Does DeSantis hold his own or reassure donors that they’re concerned about him? No. 2, does Ramaswamy continue that upward climb that he’s had? And three is, who is that other person that I think people may not have given a big look at?
Because remember, for a lot of these folks, this is the first time they’re going to be in an audience of millions of people. You go on a Sunday show, that’s great. This is, my guess is that you’re looking at anywhere from 12 to 15 million people that watch this debate.
Bluey: In terms of the topics that we can expect the moderators, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, to ask about, is it going to be focused on Trump’s indictment? Is it going to be focused on Joe Biden? Or will it be a discussion of the policy debates that are taking place in the conservative movement right now?
Spicer: The first two are definite. Bret Baier and Martha have given some interviews where they’ve said they’re going to do this. I think that the bigger question that I find is how much? Is it one or two questions or is it 10? How much time does get spent on Biden? But I think both of those categories will be covered.
And then, this is where I think you put your finger on this, do they ask questions that grassroots conservatives care about, movement conservatives, as [Heritage Foundation President] Kevin Roberts likes to talk about?
And that’s what I’m intrigued by because I think for a lot of folks in the media, they want to talk about Donald Trump and abortion. And I don’t know that there’s a single candidate on the stage tomorrow night that isn’t pro-life. So there are some nuances in terms of a federal law and a six-week ban or whatever, but that shouldn’t be a 20-minute discussion point.
So I think how much conservative issues, how much do we talk about China, the buildup of the border, immigration, things that I think movement conservatives really care about right now will be important, protecting our vote, things that people actually care about that are differentiators, right?
And I think that that’s the key thing, is that there’s a bunch of issues. Like I said, I think for abortion and life issues, almost everyone, I don’t think there’s a single candidate on the stage tomorrow night—I mean, Christie’s obviously probably on the more moderate end of that scale, but I think every one of the candidates would at least say that they are a defender of life and a protector of life.
I think it’ll be interesting to see what that balance is that shakes out among the questions that the moderators ask.
And frankly, the bigger point that I think you’re getting at is beyond tomorrow night’s debate, where else does this go? I am very concerned about who some of the hosts could be for these debates and some of the moderators.
I think that’s why the RNC went with Fox Business for the second one, because they’re going to run out of Foxes. I mean, I don’t know, maybe they go to Fox Nation next, but I think there’s only so many Foxes that you can hit before the CNN.
I mean, the only people they really interviewed were Fox, CNN, MSNBC, ABC. I would have liked to have seen independent media play a much bigger role in the cycle.
Spicer: Tonight, we’re obviously going to be at the debate. We’re going to cover, we’re going to talk to Jason Miller from the Trump campaign about what Trump’s strategy is. They’re not allowing his surrogates in the spin room. What are they going to do to get … their word out? So we will look at it from that perspective.
We’ve got a bunch of the super PAC representatives on the day after the debate where we are going to break down their strategy. What did they see at the debate? What are they going to do about it with all this money that they’re bringing in to benefit their candidate?
As we go forward, obviously, this Fulton County indictment against Trump. What does it mean for his legal case? We’ve got some top lawyers that we’re already looking at to get on to explain the legal case and the political ramifications. …
You asked earlier, what are we trying to do? I’m trying to give people an understanding of what’s going to happen down the pike, how we can stop it, how we can have our voices heard, but also, like, how we can effectively be part of the process.
Because I think too often I see someone, it’s almost like watching someone flail in a pool where it’s like, OK, you’re making motions but you’re not actually swimming. And part of what we want to do is help people navigate the waters here.
Bluey: Finally, what’s the best way for our audience to follow you, follow the show, other things that you have going on in your world?
Spicer: If you’re just interested in the show, go to SeanSpicerShow.com, that has all the links.
So if you’re a Spotify person or a podcast—and just as a selfish plug, the more places you subscribe, it’s super helpful. I mean, that’s where I think the independent media—so if you are a podcast person, please go to Apple Podcasts, and then if you can go to YouTube and subscribe to the channel, as you mentioned, you get to see the audio version.
We’re on a channel called The First, which, if you have DirecTV, is 347, we’re with [Bill] O’Reilly, Jesse Kelly, Dana Loesch. And so all, just subscribing is super helpful.
Bluey: Best wishes. We hope to have you back again soon. Again, it’s “The Sean Spicer Show.” Make sure you subscribe. Thank you, Sean.
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