The nightmare began on June 16, 2015. Donald Trump descended on an escalator to the gilded lobby of his eponymous tower on Fifth Avenue to announce his candidacy for the Republican Party’s nomination for president. Little did we know that that opening scene would be the perfect metaphor for what was to come: A low and ugly campaign that defined deviancy down in presidential politics by playing on fear, racism, xenophobia, misogyny and a general disdain for anyone not white, straight, Christian, able-bodied and male.
One year later, Trump is the Republican presumptive nominee for president of the United States.
Everyone thought Trump wouldn’t go very far. They predicted his candidacy would crumble under the weight of his political inexperience. They believed his arrogance and his mouth would be his undoing. A prediction that gained currency when he said in his presidential announcement about Mexico, “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems [to] us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
But by the time Trump graced the stage at his first GOP presidential debate last August, he had climbed to the top of the crowded 17-person field by gleefully insulting other groups of people while excusing his boorish and unpresidential comments as not being “politically correct.” Like the escalator, Trump’s performance that night would leave an indelible impression. The “festival of narcissism” that Dana Milbank described last June gave way to a parade of misogyny as Trump sparred with Megyn Kelly over her legitimate question about his past derogatory comments about women. It was a battle he would continue days and weeks later over Twitter and the airwaves.
To this day, the only person who accurately analyzed what was to befall the Republican Party and the nation was the conniving star of 75 episodes over three seasons of Trump’s NBC hit “The Apprentice,” Omarosa Manigault.
I interviewed Omarosa on MSNBC the Saturday after that first debate. At the time, what she had to say left me incredulous, but there was no denying what she said was true. But when I watched the interview again last week, a chill ran through me. Omarosa was scarily on-target.
What follows is the entire transcript of that Aug. 8, 2015, interview. Please pay attention to the sentences in bold. I’ll opine on the other side.
JC: Are you surprised by anything that happened on that debate stage on Thursday?
Omarosa: I’m not surprised at all. That first moment set the tone that he was a true leader that could not be controlled, manipulated or bought. And I have to disagree with many of the critics who said that he didn’t do well. I thought he did spectacular because he has changed the face of debates. This is a new era of political debates. Twenty-four million people? You have to look at this from a different perspective. It’s like watching the first season of “The Apprentice” when were getting 18 to 20 million people. They’re tuning in for Donald and there’s a different analysis and metrics you have to use.
JC: You’re applying the metrics of reality television, which is entertainment.
Omarosa: Not reality. Let’s not just call it reality. Reality television has now taken over television. People want to see real moments and see life unfold in front of them. Not scripted, but real moments.
JC: On television. But a presidential debate, yes, it’s on television, but we’re talking about 10 men standing on a stage on television who are talking about how they are going to lead the country and why people in that audience and watching at home should vote for them for president. It’s more than TV.
Omarosa: What’s the question, Jonathan?
JC: So the question is, do you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing that reality television and the ethos there is bleeding into presidential politics?
Omarosa: Bleeding into it? Well, when you have a big reality TV star as the front-runner for the Republican nomination, there is no way to separate it. This is the new reality. Donald Trump is the front-runner and you have to deal with everything that comes with it. His business side. Him as a father. Him as a candidate. And that’s what we’re dealing with. Not just the TV or the entertainment side. He’s going to have to answer policy questions. He’s going to have to give his position on serious issues and he may also call people pigs but that’s part of the Trump thing that comes with the package.
At this point in the interview, we showed the clip of Megyn Kelly’s question to Trump.
Omarosa: [Laughing] That was pretty funny, you have to admit.
JC: But is it appropriate?
Omarosa: Just because he insults Rosie O’Donnell doesn’t mean that he dislikes all women. Let’s stop painting with a big ol’ brush. I insulted Piers Morgan for five years. That doesn’t mean I hate all Brits. You have to understand the dynamic of celebrity feuds. Honey, I made a career out of feuds. Just because I insulted Janice Dickenson, a supermodel, doesn’t mean I hate all supermodels. We are painting with a brush that is way too broad for this moment. You’re making it way too complicated. He is selling the sizzle and not the steak and you all are getting caught up on the sizzle.
Can I just remind you that I covered the George W. Bush candidacy, as well. Are we serious? He had a problem pronouncing basic words. Let’s not panic, folks. He’d became president.
JC: Yes, he became president. But he did not get on stage and insult a woman by name and then keep doing it for several days.
Omarosa: If you want to get into this arena, and Michael and the Secretary will tell you this, you gotta have thick skin. You can’t be sensitive. That means of the moderator, for the candidates, for journalists. No one is off limits.
JC: Donald Trump’s skin is so thin I could wallpaper my walls with it.
Omarosa: I disagree with that. He’s a human being. I think that people have made him a caricature they don’t think that he has feelings. He’s a human being. If he’s upset about something he expresses it. And that’s why people are connecting with him and his candidacy.
Michael Steele [former chair of the Republican National Committee]: I just love all this because she’s making the underlying, fundamental point. Everybody’s sitting there trying to figure out why Donald Trump is having this kind of effect or why he hasn’t fallen off the cliff yet. And it’s because that authenticity, that realness and that’s connecting with people. Look, over time, and the secretary [Kathleen Sebelius] said in my ‘But he’s running for president,” And she’s absolutely right. Over time, as we get into the fall of this campaign, that’s going to settle in with the electorate. That’s going to settle in when they start making the conscious choices, Republicans, of who they want in, when they start getting serious, “Is this person the one I want in the Oval Office to deal with Putin? To deal with ISIS? To deal with all these big issues? Then you’ll begin to see that settle off. But right now, he’s connecting in an authentic and real way ….
Omarosa: Can we stop trying to write the Donald Trump obituary? He’s not going anywhere. He has staying power.
JC: And so that point, what Michael Steele just said, when people start focusing and asking do you want him in the Oval Office, given what you said here today, would you vote for Donald Trump?
Omarosa: I’m a die-hard Democrat. I’ve got Hillary Clinton tattooed on my left arm. [Laughter] This is great for politics as a whole. To ask me if I would vote for him, I’m a journalist first and foremost, I’m interested in watching this political process unfold. He’s like the Tiger Woods of politics. You know, when Tiger got involved in golf, people who had never been watching or involved or interested in golf they got engaged. That’s what’s happening with this Trump candidacy. People were just not interested in Republican Party politics…now they’re engaged.
Omarosa was right. Trump set the tone for that debate, every debate that followed and the entirety of the campaign. Her most astute observation was that about viewing it all using different metrics. That reality television had taken over television and was naturally moving into presidential politics with the king of reality television at the top of the presidential pack. As Omarosa said, with that comes some outrageous language and abhorrent policy positions that appealed to the aggrieved Republican Party base.
They thrilled to his schoolyard taunts and rhetorical takedowns of his opponents for the nomination. They applaud and join him when he lashes out at the press for not doing good stories about him (that is, doing their jobs in vetting a potential president of the United States). Trump’s so “human,” his tender feelings so hurt that he added The Post to that honor roll of news organizations barred from access to his campaign. And when his supporters lashed out and physically assaulted protesters at his events, he explained it away as, “They have anger. They love this country.” In one instance, Trump offered (and then reversed course) to pay the legal bills of the supporter who sucker punched an anti-Trump protester.
But Omarosa’s Trump Theorem is facing its toughest test. And now that we have two presumptive presidential nominees, Trump’s schtick appears to be wearing thin. His attacks on a federal judge overseeing a case against him, questioning his impartiality because of his ethnicity, proved to be too much for many in his party. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) revoked his endorsement.
Trump’s revival of his unconstitutional and un-American proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States squeezes the vice further on party leadership. Exhibit A is House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who daily ties himself into rhetorical knots condemning Trump in one breath while continuing to support his candidacy in the next.
The one thing Omarosa backtracked on was her assertion to being a “die-hard Democrat” with “Hillary Clinton tattooed on her arm.” As Trump’s campaign advanced, so did Omarosa’s profile in it, including her prominent presence at a November meeting the Big Apple billionaire had with a group of African American ministers. Omarosa holds a grand vision of her role in Trump’s presidential life.
“There is no question that there are some very extreme policies, but as Donald says, I am his Valerie Jarrett,” Omarosa said during a recent interview at a conference for women of color, according to a report by The Post’s Helena Andrews-Dyer. Jarrett is the long-time friend of and steadfast senior adviser to President Obama. She was also called “Obama’s spine” in a profile by Jo Becker of the New York Times because “[s]ome of his boldest moves, on women’s issues, gay rights and immigration, have been in areas she cares about most.”
Omarosa went on to say about her influence with Trump, “I’m the person who pulls him back when he goes too far.” Given what we have endured from the presumptive Republican nominee in just the past week, either she overstates her role or Trump is uncontrollable and, thus, a dangerous prospect for the Oval Office. Or both.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj