Why you should care
Because Donald Trump is getting a taste of his own medicine from a former friend and ally.
If one person could be the embodiment of the transient outrage of modern American culture, the crony amateurism of the Trump White House and the frenetic indifference engendered by our current news cycle, it would almost certainly be Omarosa Manigault Newman. While the rest of us have been biding our time, awaiting the Mueller report and the next season of Game of Thrones, the 44-year-old reality TV star turned White House official turned anti-Trump crusader has managed to drive a truck right through our dulled senses, and right to the bank. Over and over again, and on national television.
Like the president she used to serve, Manigault Newman is a consummate shape-shifter and carnival barker. And in her latest incarnation — conveniently timed to coincide with Tuesday’s release of her book Unhinged, in which she calls her former boss a racist and a misogynist — Manigault Newman is the principled whistleblower. She has cast herself as the Edward Snowden of the West Wing — one whose secretly recorded conversations, including one of White House chief of staff John Kelly firing her in the Situation Room, have riled administration officials, including Donald Trump. The president took to Twitter (after another recording surfaced of him appearing unaware Manigault Newman had been fired by Kelly) to claim that “Wacky Omarosa” is “vicious, but not smart.”
While I know it’s “not presidential” to take on a lowlife like Omarosa, and while I would rather not be doing so, this is a modern day form of communication and I know the Fake News Media will be working overtime to make even Wacky Omarosa look legitimate as possible. Sorry!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 13, 2018
But while Trump’s move from Democratic donor and New York libertine to über-conservative GOP cult leader took years to execute, Manigault Newman’s evolution feels like it’s happening in real time. Given the dearth of Black people in Trump’s inner circle (can you name another?), a lot of attention has been paid to Manigault Newman’s skin color, and not nearly enough to how often — and well — the political chameleon has changed her colors.
Manigault Newman’s brief stint in the White House was not her first time around the D.C. merry-go-round. It didn’t end well the first time either. After growing up in a housing project in Youngstown, Ohio, and losing her father at age 7 — he was murdered — Manigault Newman emerged from a turbulent youth to earn a degree in broadcast journalism at Central State University and land a job in the office of then vice president Al Gore at age 23. Manigault Newman went through four jobs in two years with the Clinton administration, and was asked to leave her last one in the Commerce Department because she was “unqualified and disruptive,” a former department undersecretary told The New York Times. (Manigault Newman blamed her difficulties on an administration that didn’t “believe in training.”)
Manigault Newman would not earn national notoriety for being fired, however, until 2004, when as one of the contestants in the first year of NBC’s reality TV series The Apprentice, she was dismissed by now president Trump. She claimed she was canned because she was “truly the strongest player,” and her ability to cash in on her stint on the show led many at the time to wonder whether the clearly savvy competitor threw the competition to get more publicity after she became, as Jet magazine put it, the “woman America loved to hate.” Despite her unpopularity, or maybe because of it, Manigault Newman managed to eke out an incredible 75 episodes over three seasons of Trump’s show.
After being a die-hard Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter, Manigault Newman returned to her former Apprentice overlord’s side in 2015 when he announced his presidential run. Variously styled as the vice chair of Trump’s National Diversity Coalition and the director of African-American outreach — and casting herself as Trump’s “Valerie Jarrett” — Manigault Newman fiercely defended Trump against accusations that he was racist and sexist. So it seemed only natural after Trump entered the White House that she would be asked to occupy an equally elevated if vague position there: director of communications in the White House’s public liaison office.
By most accounts, Omarosa’s primary position was persona non grata: She tended to storm into meetings, alienate colleagues — some of whom were “scared shitless” of her, as one told Axios — and abuse perks like the White House car service. She was ultimately fired by Kelly and escorted off the premises even as Trump himself remained blissfully unaware of her shortcomings. “Omarosa’s actually a very nice person,” he said at a Black History Month breakfast last year, in stark contrast to his more recent tweets. “Nobody knows that.”
And so, after a highly profitable ejection from another reality television show, Celebrity Big Brother, earlier this year, in which she reinvented herself yet again as a Black counterrevolutionary (famously stating “I feel like I just got freed off of a plantation”), Manigault Newman has returned for another run at the headlines, perhaps her boldest yet. The whole scenario — from the secret recordings in the White House to a human resources meeting held in the Situation Room — is “most uncommon,” says Steffen Schmidt, a politics professor at Iowa State University, and should remind us yet again how unusual this administration is. So should Trump’s tweetstorm against his former ally, says Daniel Urman, a law and politics expert at Northeastern University. “If anyone doubted whether this president was running a reality-TV-show type of administration, they need not look further than the president’s relationship with Omarosa.”
In some ways, Manigault Newman’s latest shape-shifting — and the back-stabbing, name-calling and self-promotion it entails — means metamorphosing into the man she now decries. She is, for the moment, out-Trumping Trump, dominating the airwaves by making news with her White House tapes on Meet the Press and the Today show, while teasing more revelations to come. The apprentice has returned to take on the master. And this time around, there’s nothing left for Manigault Newman to be fired from, and nobody to do the firing.