Setting aside how “quickly” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly fired Manigault Newman (months after Kelly assumed his role), Trump’s disparagement of his former employee as a “dog” stands out.
We’re accustomed to Trump using terms like “dog” or “animal” to disparage his opponents, of course. Earlier this year, there was a debate over Trump’s use of the term “animals” to describe members of the criminal gang MS-13 and, in one murky situation, undocumented immigrants more broadly. We noted then that Trump often described terrorism suspects and criminals as animals: the terrorists in San Bernardino, the attackers in Paris in November 2015, two people who killed police officers in Louisiana shortly before he announced his candidacy. When a Republican Party office in North Carolina was attacked in 2016, he decried the attackers as “animals” who were lashing out “because we are winning.”
We’re also used to Trump using the term “dog” to amplify his rhetoric about something happening in a particularly nasty way.
Mitt Romney, Trump said repeatedly during the 2016 campaign, “choked like a dog” in 2012, handing President Barack Obama a second term in office.
“The RNC hasn’t won an important election in a long time. We’ve had Obama far too long,” Trump said in April 2016. “The last election should have been won except Romney choked like a dog. He choked. He went, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!’ ”
Journalist David Gregory, commentator Erick Erickson, television host Glenn Beck and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) were all criticized for having been fired like dogs or, in the case of Cruz, firing an employee like a dog. Even the employees at a Carrier factory in Indiana had been fired like dogs, prompting them to become Trump supporters.
“We’re not going to let companies leave our country without there being consequences,” Trump said in July 2016. “As an example when Carrier left and they left 1,400 people, those 1,400 people many of them followed me all over Indiana. They love Trump, because I’m the only one that spoke their language. They were fired like dogs.”
Notice how these comments differ from Trump’s comment about Manigault Newman, though. That comment was more like his descriptors of MS-13: She herself was a dog.
He had made similar comments about other women. In April 2015, someone on Twitter asked him why he disparaged Arianna Huffington as “unattractive both inside and out.”
“Because,” he replied, “she is a dog who wrongfully comments on me.”
A few years earlier, New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote about a note she’d once received from Trump.
“During one down period, I referred to him in print as a ‘financially embattled thousandaire,’ ” Collins wrote, “and he sent me a copy of the column with my picture circled and ‘The Face of a Dog!’ written over it.”
During the campaign, Trump was justifiably criticized for similarly mocking the appearance of Carly Fiorina, one of his competitors in the Republican presidential primaries. But he had already given himself a get-out-of-jail-free card with his supporters in the first few minutes of the first primary debate.
On Aug. 6, 2015, Trump joined nine other leading Republican candidates on stage in Cleveland for a debate hosted by Fox News. After the network’s Bret Baier asked the candidates whether they pledged to support the eventual Republican nominee — a question prompted by Trump’s having balked at committing to do so — the candidates were asked individual questions about their electability.
Megyn Kelly, then of Fox, went in for the killshot on Trump.
“Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter,” she said. “However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.’ ”
“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump replied, to laughter.
“For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell,” Kelly replied, continuing: “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump said. The crowd applauded.
For the record, it hasn’t only been women to whom he has referred specifically as dogs. Over the three years before launching his campaign, he used the term to disparage former Obama adviser David Axelrod, British politician Lord Sugar and musician Mac Miller. (Trump was annoyed that Miller’s song “Donald Trump” was earning Miller money and not him.)
But the defense Trump offered in that debate became a signal one for him. He took the valid criticism about his disparagement of other people as being unpresidential and flipped it into an asset for himself: He said what he thought, without a filter. It came at a critical moment in the primary contest, when Trump was the front-runner but had not been tested against his opponents, especially in a live television broadcast watched by millions of Americans. Trump turned his disparagement of women, including referring to women as “dogs,” into a demonstration of how effective he would be as president.
On Monday, at the tailend of his tweets disparaging Manigault Newman, Trump noted this himself.
“While I know it’s ‘not presidential’ to take on a lowlife like Omarosa,” he wrote, “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!” he added, though one suspects he wasn’t.