Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer touched on a range of subjects Wednesday night at The John Cooper School in The Woodlands.

The event, hosted and sponsored by The World Affairs Council of Greater Houston, included a question and answer session with Ronan O’Malley during which Spicer discussed his rise through the Republican National Committee ranks, his time in President Donald J. Trump’s administration and his portrayal on Saturday Night Live.

Spicer, who is currently participating in the hit TV show “Dancing with the stars,” was in the Houston region for two nights and two different events to promote his new book, “The Briefing: Politics, the press and the president.” The question and answer at The John Cooper school was attended by about 100 people, including students and faculty from JCS as well as a group of students from Sam Houston State University. Spicer signed copies of his book before and after the presentation.

Spicer began by talking about his background working for the Republican National Committee, and how the 2008 election loss to President Barack Obama taught the RNC valuable lessons about the use of voter’s personal data and social media such as Twitter and Facebook by Democrats as Obama won election in 2008 over John McCain and then re-election in 2012 over Mitt Romney.

“Republicans largely mocked (Obama’s) campaign, but he crushed us,” Spicer recalled, saying RNC officials realized Obama and Democrats were, “onto something” in relationship to data and social media. “

That 2012 loss led to a renewed focus among Republicans, Spicer explained, that led to a massive program to extract data from voters about what issues were important to them as well as other intimate details of their lives, all in a quest to identify who voters may choose in the 2014 election.

Spicer then described how Trump had appeared on the political scene in spring 2015 with a press conference announcing his candidacy that included insulting comments about Mexican immigrants. Many Republicans did not believe Trump had a chance to win the nomination, let alone the presidency, Spicer added, describing Trump as, “a guy in New York with a Twitter account who had no political apparatus and he went out and defied the odds.”

The database research into voters and the social media program that Republicans had built for the 2014 election was very valuable for the Trump campaign, Spicer added, saying Republicans won Michigan for the first time in decades by a 0.22 percent margin in large part due to the data they culled.

“That kind of data and that kind of precision allowed us to be that nimble and precise,” Spicer said.

On why Trump was able to capture the hearts, and votes, in the 2016 election, Spicer said that Trump was unusual in that he promised to follow up on his campaign pledges unlike past Republican candidates who would tell voters they were going to do specific things if elected, then when they did win, they would backtrack and not follow through on campaign promises.

Spicer said Trump reached voters who said, ‘I’m tired of the BS talking points.’”

“He did everything he said he was going to do,” Spicer noted of Trump’s agenda after he was elected.

In regard to the news media and his relationship with the press when he was the White House press secretary, Spicer said the newspaper and television industries have changed dramatically over the past 10 years, especially with the growth in use of social media by journalists as well as reporters increasingly appearing on cable television news programs, for which they are paid. Spicer also said journalists should report facts, not opinions.

“Why is it up to these journalists to tell you who won the Democratic debate? Their job is to tell you what happened and then you make up your mind who won,” he said, in reference to the Oct. 15 Democratic debate in Ohio. “Now, (journalists) want to tell you what the news is and how to think about it as opposed to, ‘here are the facts.’”

When the subject Trump’s habit of doing presidential policy and communications by tweets on Twitter, Spicer said for the most part, the tweets are “him” and are not filtered by staff.

“Trump knows what he wants to say, how he wants to say it and when he says it,” Spicer explained of the Twitter use by the president. “It is him in the rawest form communicating to the American people.”

As for one of the more infamous incidents during his tenure as press secretary, when he lashed out at the White House press corps about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd, Spicer admitted he “bungled” it, but said the situation was the result of continuing frustration with the media being critical of Trump about everything he did.

“It was always, ‘you can’t, you can’t.’ No matter what we did, it wasn’t good enough. There was a sense we were not legitimate and second class,” he said. “To be blunt, I bungled it. I want people to understand the mentality, not as an excuse. When the press makes errors, they say, ‘sorry’ and move on. With us, it was different. It really gets at you.”

Spicer also described how he first learned of Melissa McCarthy’s now-famous impersonation of him on Saturday Night Live, explaining how the night the segment first aired, he had gone to bed early and not seen it. The next morning as he and his family were preparing to go to church, he said his wife asked him if he’d watch the show, saying, “You’re going to want to see it.”

“The whole mass (in church), my personal phone was blowing up with texts,” Spicer said. “(After watching) I just sort of sat there and had a surge of emotions. The first one was, ‘Holy Smokes.’ I was like, ‘OK, this is pretty funny,’ and I kind of deserved it. You’ve got to take your licks, it was a tough place to be. Then you recognize, this is not a good place to be.”

jeff.forward@chron.com

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