WASHINGTON — When Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, resigned from the Trump administration in 2017, ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” saw a future for him on the show.

At the time, Mr. Spicer, a little-known Republican Party spokesman before his short tenure at the White House, had more traditional paths he wanted to pursue with his newfound fame: book deals, network deals, paid speeches, consulting gigs and even the possibility of starting his own podcast. He passed on the dancing opportunity.

Flash forward two years to Monday night, when Mr. Spicer, dressed in a skintight, fluorescent lime green ruffled shirt and white slacks, made his prime-time dancing debut, banging on the bongos like a good sport and twirling through the salsa to the Spice Girls’ 1997 hit “Spice Up Your Life.”

“This wasn’t part of the plan,” he told The New Yorker last week. “Frankly, I’m just making money, trying to enjoy life.”

Mr. Spicer, more than any other staff member in the revolving door that is President Trump’s West Wing, has become an avatar for the reputational sacrifice and ritual humiliation that come with trying to remain in Mr. Trump’s good graces while also seeking mainstream acceptance.

In the White House, Mr. Spicer held a job that has usually been considered a golden ticket to future respectability and financial comfort. His predecessors have landed in lucrative corporate gigs at Amazon and United Airlines, or become the hosts of their own television programs. But trading in his famously ill-fitting suit to become a trending neon GIF felt like the culmination of a different kind of post-White House journey, one that is quintessentially Trump.

Where Mr. Trump used reality television to cement an image of power and wealth on the psyches of millions of viewers of “The Apprentice,” his former flack chose a similar medium and did the exact opposite.

“Really hard LOL,” was the reaction of Anthony Scaramucci, whose brief time as the White House communications director finally led Mr. Spicer to resign and who has been on his own journey back to mainstream acceptance. “That is my on-the-record comment. Feel free to use.” By contrast, Reince Priebus, Mr. Spicer’s former boss at the White House and at the Republican National Committee, showed up on set in Los Angeles to support his former colleague.

Mr. Spicer said on Tuesday that he did not particularly care what other people thought of his path. “I’m very comfortable with who I am, what I believe and what my priorities are in life,” he said. “As long as I’m good with God and my family, I’m fine. I haven’t changed a damn thing about me. What have I done, besides make an ass out of myself?”

Mr. Spicer, who said he still gave paid speeches and recently bought a summer home in Newport, R.I., said he really wasn’t in it for the money. “I’ve got two businesses that are in a really good place right now, on the political side and on the consulting side,” he said. “My partners have been very supportive of picking up the slack.”

Over the past two years, Mr. Spicer has expressed regret for barking falsehoods about the size of Mr. Trump’s inauguration crowd at the press, and tried to embrace the comedian Melissa McCarthy’s unflattering but indelible “Saturday Night Live” caricature of him by appearing at the Emmys on a rolling podium with some self-effacing jokes in hand.

But he has also heeled close to Mr. Trump, never breaking with him in a way that could jeopardize the president’s future support, or his own future in a party that is still defined by its fealty to Mr. Trump. In his book, “The Briefing,” Mr. Spicer describes Mr. Trump as a “rock star” and a “unicorn.”

He made a special appearance at Madame Tussauds, the wax museum, to unveil a statue of the first lady, Melania Trump. Mr. Trump returned the favor, publicizing Mr. Spicer’s dancing debut. “Just heard that Sean Spicer will be on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter last month. “He will do great. A terrific person who loves our Country dearly!”

Mr. Spicer is also counting on the president’s support to continue appearing on the show. Mr. Trump, according to someone familiar with the plans, is expected to weigh in on Twitter again with his support ahead of ABC’s vote next week, which will decide whether Mr. Spicer advances to another round. Mr. Spicer’s pay, reportedly $125,000, increases each week he is able to hang on.

“Clearly the judges aren’t going to be with me,” Mr. Spicer tweeted on Tuesday, after Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, expressed support for him online. “Let’s send a message to #Hollywood that those of us who stand for #Christ won’t be discounted.” The tweet did not land with the grace of a pirouette.

“Imagine time-traveling back to 2009, amid ferocious battles over bailouts, spending, taxation, Obamacare, and the role of government in our lives, and being told the Republican Party of 2019 would look like this,” Tim Alberta, the author of “American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump,” responded on Twitter.

His performance left many former colleagues appalled by the depths to which he would go for whatever combination of money, celebrity and reputational resurrection they assumed he was after. But Mr. Spicer did look as though he enjoyed himself, smiling when one of the judges called his performance “strangely entertaining,” even while criticizing the lack of movement in his hips.

“I was wearing a lime green shirt and playing the bongos,” he said. “If you weren’t laughing, then you have a problem.” Mr. Spicer admitted that the shirt was not his idea and would not have been his pick. “The creative team did it,” he said. “I think it was payback for a lot of people.”

But his journey seems to have served as a cautionary tale for his successors. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who took over after Mr. Spicer’s departure, slowly phased out the press briefings that yielded some of Mr. Spicer’s lowest moments, and on the same night he was dancing, she was appearing with Sean Hannity to defend the president and criticize the news media as a new Fox News contributor.

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Mr. Trump’s third White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, has gone a step further, phasing out television interviews as well as driveway gaggles with reporters, essentially bypassing the seemingly impossible and thankless task of speaking on behalf of Mr. Trump.

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