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Omarosa: Trump’s perfect TV villain returns with a drama of her own

Former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman secretly recorded some conversations with President Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly before her departure. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)
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NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman looks embarrassed. Lil Jon, the hip-hop star who ignited airwaves with a single meme-worthy catchphrase (“YEAH!”), appears to be suddenly stunned into silence. Country crooner Trace Adkins’s face is cemented with an awkward look like a kid caught between warring parents.

Even the ringmaster of this particular reality TV circus, Donald Trump, seems to want to be anywhere other than the boardroom where “Celebrity Apprentice” cast member Omarosa Manigault Newman was tangling with her arch-nemesis Piers Morgan in the show’s 13th season.

“You know my argument against you has always been that you are not a celebrity,” Morgan blasts from his seat at the table, delivering a particularly nasty blow on a television show premised entirely on the star power of the contestants.

“And you are?” Manigault Newman shot back, the retort dripping condescension.

It was one of the great showdowns in the show’s 15 season run. Millions of viewers had come to expect theatricality from Manigault Newman, the once-nobody-turned-reality-television villain who used her infamy in Trump’s boardroom to jump into the highest rungs of American pop culture. She was invited onto talk shows, splashed on magazine covers. It was this reputation that led Trump himself to tweet in March 2013 that “Omarosa always promises and delivers high drama.”

But that high drama has boomeranged back around on Trump. This week Manigault Newman’s book, “Unhinged: An Insider Account of the Trump White House,” hits bookstores. As The Washington Post has reported, the tell-all reportedly paints the president as “unqualified, narcissistic and racist.”

The lead-up to the release has already been a wild ride. She reportedly writes about a rumored tape featuring Trump using the n-word. Manigault Newman has also claimed she was offered a $15,000-a-month contract to stay mum after losing her White House job last December. On Sunday, she released a secretly recorded tape of Chief of Staff John F. Kelly in the White House Situation Room.

Former reality star turned White House aide turned reality star Omarosa Manigault is spilling the tea on her days at the White House. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)

According to the Associated Press, the book itself holds nothing back, describing the president as a man who “loved conflict, chaos and confusion; he loved seeing people argue or fight.”

But those words equally apply to the author, and Manigault Newman’s recent Beltway appearances track perfectly with her television career. The same corrosive firepower she brought to prime time — from racial conflict to refusing to back down to surprise attacks — is being deployed in the days before the reality television star’s book release.

Manigault Newman’s public career has followed a uniquely 21st-century calculus for success: start with zero, get on television, behave badly, reap the success, repeat.

“Zero” for Manigault Newman was Youngstown, Ohio, a once-mighty steel town gutted by globalization.

“I grew up on welfare, on Section 8 housing,” she said in an appearance on “The View.” “My father was killed when I was 7 years old.”

As The Washington Post has reported, Manigault Newman earned degrees from Central State University and Payne Theological Seminary, two Ohio-based historically black schools. She also earned a master’s degree and worked toward a doctorate at Howard University. She eventually served for a period in the White House under President Bill Clinton.

But it was the first season of “The Apprentice” that launched Manigault Newman into the reality television echelon in 2004. Among the 16 contestants vying for a job in Trump’s organization, she stood out as a ruthless competitor who knew exactly how to stoke conflict among the cast members for maximum television drama — particularly by confronting her white castmates about race.

“You’re emotionally unstable,” Manigault Newman tells a castmate while the group travels on a private jet.

“That is like calling the kettle black,” the contestant retorts.

“See there you go with your racist terms,” Manigault Newman replies. “Try to contain your prejudice, okay? You’re very intimidated by black women, right?”

Although she was eventually booted from the series’s inaugural season, Manigault Newman was back when Trump retooled the program for the first season of “Celebrity Apprentice.” And although her star power was considerably lacking compared with the other recording artists and boldfaced names on the 2008 season, Manigault Newman still was a flash point of controversy.

Early in the season, she clashed memorably with La Toya Jackson.

“I am not your staff, get it straight,” the reality television vet scolds the Jackson family member.

“It’s always a scene [with you],” Jackson hits back.

“It’s always going to be a scene cause you’ll never take me down, boo,” Manigault Newman says. “Next time you fix your mouth to tell me to be quiet, you will think again.”

But Manigault Newman’s most epic on-screen rivalry was with Piers Morgan.

Throughout the season the two traded barbs. Manigault Newman’s attack was particularly scathing, blasting everything from the British television host’s parenting to his sexuality.

“I have absolutely no respect for Piers,” she says in one episode, in words that should make anyone on her bad side worried. “My whole mission was to break him down. And I knew his weak spot. And I exploited them.”

The combative spirit that propelled Manigault Newman through her multiple appearances on reality television didn’t cool off once she shifted with Trump into politics. Both on the campaign trail and during her time in the White House, she zealously defended the president against accusations of sexism and racism.

At a Bikers for Trump event at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., President Trump called former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman a "lowlife." (Video: The Washington Post)

“I am living the American dream because of Donald Trump,” Manigault Newman wrote in a December 2016 guest column for the Hollywood Reporter. “Look at my career, the wealth and exposure that I’ve had: It’s very difficult to make the argument that Donald Trump doesn’t like black people and black women.”

Those lessons in on-air confrontation seem to have equally prepared her for when her time in the White House ended. Scrapping with Morgan on camera is one thing; purportedly secretly recording retired United States Marine Corps general in one of the most secure parts of the White House — that’s drama of a whole new level.

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