Spicer talks politics in UMass appearance

  • Audience members waiting for an appearance by former White House press secretary and Republican National Committee strategist Sean Spicer browse in the lobby of the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center at a table staffed by the UMass College Republicans club on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 in Amherst. The club, which along with the Young America's Foundation, presented the event, prohibited photography inside the concert hall during Spicer's appearance. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Prachi Goyal, co-chair of the Graduate Employee Organization at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, talks about a visit by Sean Spicer to the campus prior to the former White House press secretary's appearance at the UMass Fine Arts Center on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. The visit was presented by the UMass College Republicans and the Young America's Foundation. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Nicholas Consolini, president of the UMass College Republicans, talks about his club bringing former White House press secretary and Republican National Committee strategist Sean Spicer to speak at the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center in Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. The club prohibited photography inside the concert hall during Spicer's appearance there. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Alyssa Goldstein, co-chair of the Graduate Employee Organization at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, talks about a visit by Sean Spicer to the campus prior to the former White House press secretary's appearance at the UMass Fine Arts Center on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. The visit was presented by the UMass College Republicans and the Young America's Foundation. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Nicholas Consolini, president of the UMass College Republicans, talks about his club bringing former White House press secretary and Republican National Committee strategist Sean Spicer to speak at the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center in Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. The club prohibited photography inside the concert hall during Spicer's appearance there. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The UMass College Republicans club gave away buttons and literature and posters and calendars of Ronald Reagan in the lobby of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center prior to an appearance in the concert hall by Sean Spicer, a former White House press secretary to Donald Trump, on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College first-year Lilly Hershey-Webb, left, and University of Massachusetts first-year Charlotte Wadsworth, talk about a visit by Sean Spicer to the UMass Amherst campus about an hour before the former White House press secretary's appearance at the Fine Arts Center on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. The visit was presented by the UMass College Republicans and the Young America's Foundation. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The UMass College Republicans club gave away buttons and literature and posters and calendars of Ronald Reagan in the lobby of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center prior to an appearance in the concert hall by Sean Spicer, a former White House press secretary to Donald Trump, on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The UMass College Republicans gave away buttons and literature and posters and calendars of Ronald Reagan in the lobby of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center prior to an appearance in the concert hall by former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Tuesday. Below, Nicholas Consolini, president of the UMass College Republicans, talks about bringing Spicer to UMass. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Audience members waiting for an appearance by Sean Spicer, a former White House press secretary to Donald Trump, pick up posters of former president Ronald Reagan being given away by the UMass College Republicans club which presented the event at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer smiles during a briefing at the White House, in Washington, June 20, 2017. AP FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/28/2018 12:25:47 AM

AMHERST — For a brief 182 days in 2017, Sean Spicer seemed to be everywhere: confronting the press from his podium as White House press secretary, being lampooned by Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live,” and presenting falsehoods that Republicans later spun as “alternative facts.”

On Tuesday, Spicer was briefly in Amherst, where he visited the University of Massachusetts for a packed-house speech at the Fine Arts Center. Those trademarks from his time in the spotlight, however, he largely avoided.

“When I left the White House, I promised my wife I’d give up podiums,” President Donald Trump’s former press secretary said, grabbing the microphone and moving away from the podium for the entirety of his speech.

Tuesday’s event was put on by the college’s Republican club, whose members were passing out posters of Ronald Reagan and “free speech” stickers in the lobby before the event. Nicholas Consolini, the president of the UMass College Republicans, told the Gazette that they invited Spicer to UMass Amherst in part as an exercise in free speech.

“Everyone has the right to say their opinion,” he said, noting many people would want to hear from someone who was so close to the president.

Photography was prohibited at the event, and when the question-and-answer portion of the night arrived, Consolini revealed to the seemingly disappointed crowd that he would be asking Spicer pre-selected questions he claimed to have collected in the lobby.

Sitting front and center for Spicer’s speech was 58-year-old Peter McNair, an Agawam resident and Trump supporter. He said he hoped for some candor from Spicer about his time in the White House.

“I’d like to hear his point with the strengths of Trump, and his weaknesses,” McNair said.

Spicer didn’t really get into any of that. He spent his whole speech on autobiographical details, discussing his childhood in Rhode Island and the early political campaigns he worked on. Campaign strategy was a large focus of the talk, from his earliest work on congressional races to Trump’s presidential campaign of 2016.

Spicer recounted how, going into the 2014 midterm elections, the Republican Party poured $175 million into massive data troves on voters, adding to that data with on-the-ground door knocking. That data, Spicer said, could tell the party granular details about voters — whether someone owned a gun, what car they drove, who their “influencers” were.

“It’s not just one candidate who benefits, it’s every candidate up and down the ballot,” Spicer said of that strategy. Those elections saw sweeping victories for Republicans across the country, resulting in the largest Republican majority in the House since 1928.

On Trump’s campaign, Spicer said that when it became clear Trump would win the Republican nomination for president, the Republican National Committee held a meeting with Trump’s team. Trump’s campaign told RNC officials they didn’t have any fundraising operation or research team.

“We barely have any political folks, we don’t really have a communications operation,” Spicer recalled Trump’s team saying. “What do you guys have?”

The RNC had all of those things, Spicer said, and a data-heavy strategy resulted in victory.

Spicer was known during his time in the White House for controversial moments — including several offensive gaffes about the Holocaust — and false public statements. During Tuesday’s speech, he only briefly mentioned one of them — the infamous moment when Spicer repeated Trump’s false claim that the crowd at his inauguration ceremony was the largest in history. Trump aide Kellyanne Conway later famously called Spicer’s claims that day “alternative facts.”

“It was our first day,” Spicer said, acknowledging he would do things differently if he could redo it. “We were trying to counter a narrative and I don’t think we did it well.”

Spicer drew some laughs from the audience, who largely sat quietly. But he certainly wasn’t without his critics. There was one person quietly and periodically heckling him — though not interrupting — throughout the speech.

When Spicer began the question-and-answer portion of his appearance, a group near the front began singing the union anthem “Solidarity Forever,” drowning out Spicer’s voice and most of the questions from Consolini. Several others shouted denouncements — that Trump is a white nationalist, that Spicer is a liar. But most of the crowd cheered Spicer when he addressed the hecklers directly.

Ahead of the speech, the graduate student union, GEO, held a small rally in front of the Student Union building in opposition to Spicer’s appearance on campus. One of the union’s co-chairs, Prachi Goyal, said it felt painful that Spicer was invited to campus after several racists incidents have occurred on campus this semester.

“The message they spread and what they stand for is evil and extremely bigoted,” Goyal said of the Trump administration.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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