She keeps coming back into our lives like the cat in a certain campfire song who wouldn’t stay away though “they thought he was a goner.”
She is Omarosa Manigault Newman, or just Omarosa, because she is part of the pantheon of celebrities who are on a first name basis with the world. She first appeared on media radar fourteen years ago, during the very first season of the television show The Apprentice, hosted of course by Donald Trump.
Omarosa was fired in week nine of that season, which meant she finished in 8th place (the winner that year was Bill Rancic — a name few now remember). It was Omarosa who left a lasting impression on viewers, for the back stabbing and the sometimes eloquent dishonesty with which she avoided elimination as long as she did. She appears on a TV Guide list of the nastiest television villains of all time.
Trump kept having her come back in later seasons and in later incarnations of the show.
In the course of the 2016 campaign, Trump named her his Director of African-American Outreach. In an interview she gave in that capacity that September, she indulged in apocalyptic rhetoric about how “every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump … It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.”
Through 2017, Omarosa worked for the new administration as Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison. The manner of her departure from the White House near year’s end was a matter of some confusion and rumor at the time. Some said that Secret Service agents had to carry her out kicking and screaming.
Now, Omarosa is back, She has a memoir out about herself and President Trump, titled Unhinged, and she has appeared on a number of televised platforms to sell it. As a CNN has said, the book “marks a stunning turn-around for a former top aide.”
Omarosa has also played for the world, pursuant to this book tour, a tape she made surreptitiously of a conversation she had with the President’s chief of staff. John Kelly tells her in this tape that if she leaves quietly, there will be no harm to her reputation. She says she takes this as a threat: that they would besmirch her if her departure were inadequately deferential.
What has caused more consternation that the content of this recorded conversation, though, is its location. Omarosa says that this conversation took place in the White House Situation Room, a place usually reserved for national-security crises, and one where recordings are forbidden.
From the Right
Within Trump world itself, there is a certain amount of confusion as to whether Omarosa should be ignored or condemned. There may even be some confused expectation that it is possible to do both at the same time.
Jonah Goldberg, writing for the old-line conservative journal National Review, catalogs the different worlds whence come this President’s appointees. Some of them are from the world of business and finance, like Wilbur Ross or Rex Tillerson. Some come from the Bannonite “counter-establishment,” (Bannon himself, and Gorka), others from the GOP hierarchy (Priebus, Spicer), others are movement conservatives, like Sessions or Pruitt. But there is another group, the source Goldberg thinks of all of Trump’s worst appointments, that come from Trump world itself — the world of family and friends of the POTUS.
Given this typology, Goldberg then claims that Omarosa was the worst of the worst of Trump’s appointees, because she had no contact with any of those sources other than the last — she was from no relevant world other than Trump world. Everybody else in Donald Trump’s orbit went along passively with his hiring her because of what Goldberg calls the “weird fable that he hires the best people.”
Charles C.W, Cooke, also writing in NR, adds a humorous note. He begins with an infamous tweet of Trump’s praising his chief of staff for firing Omarosa, “that dog.” Cooke then documents the fact that Trump uses the term “dog” metaphorically very often, always in very unfavorable contexts (he never seems to praise someone’s dog-like loyalty, or say that his staff is working as hard as dogs.) It is always negative, “fired like a dog,” “dumped like a dog,” “begging for money like a dog” all seem to be regular parts of his vocabulary. Whether or not this puts Omarosa in good company, it at least gives her a lot of company.
Some Trump allies compare Omarosa to other animals — animals that nobody ever mentions in a positive light. Former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, for example, calls her both a rat and a snake.
On social media, other Trump allies, responding to some of the tapes so far released, said that the tapes were a bust, that they haven’t shown anything criminal or blameworthy on Trump’s part, and so what they really prove is that Omarosa “has nothing.”
From the Left
Meanwhile, commenters on the left were more easily shocked than those of the right at the President’s dismissal of Omarosa as “that dog,” which (in the words of Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker) constitutes “another first for his debasement of Presidential rhetoric.”
One of the tapes that Omarosa has released in the course of her book tour contains a conversation between herself and Lara Trump, the President’s daughter-in-law, in which Lara seems on behalf of the Trump family to be trying to buy Omarosa’s silence with regard to her White House tenure with the promise of a no-show 2020 campaign related job.
The center-left website Slate breaks the sad news to its readers that Omarosa won’t be of much value as a weapon against the President and his program, because “Trump has no dignity to sully” and it would take a truly extraordinary story to convince supporters of his who might be persuadable that this administration is actually worse than it appears from the outside.
Frank Fagan, at Vox, quotes a Trump tweet in which the President acknowledged that it is not presidential to act as he is acting, specifically in his words to “take on a low life like Omarosa.” But he has to do it because otherwise the fake news will make her seem legitimate. Fagan thinks this tweet illustrates how “Omarosa’s book was always likely to become a perfect storm.”
Two authors at Axios have declared that the dust-up between Trump and Omarosa reminds them of a more general truth: this has been and will continue to be a reality-show presidency at heart. Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen write that advisers (probably those who have never quite gotten into the reality-TV flow themselves) advised the President to stay above the Omarosa fray, to refrain from tweeting about her. Obviously they and that counsel did not prevail.
A Final Thought
Some commentators focus on the fact that one of the tapes Omarosa has played publicly conveys a discussion that took place in the Situation Room. The room was first created out of President John F. Kennedy’s frustration after the Bay of Pigs invasion. He believed that “he could no longer trust the information coming to him from the various sectors of the nation’s defense departments,” and the room was part of a strategy for working around, not necessarily through, the existing defense bureaucracy.
It is natural to wonder: why was a routine personnel matter taking place in the Situation Room? And: why is the Situation Room not more secure against the making of surreptitious recordings of statements made therein?