In her book, subtitled “An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” Manigault Newman describes the president as a racist and questioned his mental competency.
On Aug. 13, when Trump could have busied himself with, say, leading the free world, he appeared consumed with his former colleague. He blasted off several tweets dubbing her “Wacky and Deranged Omarosa” and claimed that nobody in the White House liked her. At one point, he even seemed to acknowledge the risk of bringing more attention to the woman he wanted us all to ignore:
With a reach of more than 50 million followers, his raging monologue of denials, counterattacks and self-justifications captivated the nation and dominated the airways. And then, the very morning that “Unhinged” went on sale around the country, the president called Manigault Newman “a crazed, crying lowlife” and praised White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly “for quickly firing that dog!”
It was a golden launch — possibly the most perfectly calibrated, accidental marketing campaign in the history of publishing.
What’s most striking is that the book didn’t sell better. Advance sales were hardly off the charts. After Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” James B. Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty” and so many other books about Trump’s sins and miracles, the nation may be exhausted by these polemical testimonies. Imagine if the president had just stayed quiet about “Unhinged” and let White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issue some bland condemnation of the memoir.
Instead, TV and cable news exploded with the story of Trump’s “dog” tweet, which seemed to play right into accusations that he’s a racist. Manigault Newman’s book was everywhere, as was the author herself, looking poised, serious and deeply disappointed in her one-time employer. “He has absolutely no respect for women, for African Americans,” she said on MSNBC as she teaspooned out more revelations and potential revelations.
And Trump kept playing right into her hands.
Trump campaign counsel Charles Harder tried to block release of the book by threatening Simon & Schuster with “substantial monetary damages and punitive damages.” It was an act of breathtaking ignorance about publishing and politics in the United States. And, unsurprisingly, it provided the publisher with a spotlight to release a scathing dismissal of the campaign’s thuggery. “My clients will not be intimidated by hollow legal threats and have proceeded with publication of the Book as scheduled,” wrote Simon & Schuster’s outside counsel Elizabeth McNamara. “Your client does not have a viable legal claim merely because unspecified truthful statements in the Book may embarrass the president or his associates. At base, your letter is nothing more than an obvious attempt to silence legitimate criticism of the president.”
In short: This is America, buddy.
The dismal experience of Sean Spicer provides a telling counter example. On June 20, Trump endorsed his former press secretary’s memoir:
But that happy praise caused nary a ripple. Despite coast-to-coast media attention, Spicer’s book debuted at about 6,000 hardback copies and fell precipitously the next week.
As Manigault Newman’s first-week sales demonstrate, nothing moves books like an unhinged condemnation by the most powerful man in the world.
Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post and hosts TotallyHipVideoBookReview.com.