Interest in the reality-show-level drama of Omarosa Manigault Newman’s exit is overshadowing a more important fact: President Trump doesn't have any black senior advisers at the White House.
While the Trump administration’s surgeon general, Dr. Jerome M. Adams, and secretary of housing and urban development, Ben Carson, are black men, neither is White House staff.
Until Tuesday, Manigault Newman, a former contestant on Trump's “The Apprentice,” was the director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison. It supposedly was not clear — even to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly — what her responsibilities were exactly. But Manigault Newman saw herself as a link between the president and black Americans.
She oversaw outreach efforts related to historically black colleges and universities, spoke to black journalists about the relationship between law enforcement and black youth, and organized a Black History Month event at the White House, albeit a poorly attended one.
But her efforts at improving Trump’s relationship with the demographic group that overwhelmingly voted against him in the 2016 presidential election didn’t appear to be effective. Trump’s overall approval rating is at historic lows, and his support among black Americans is even worse. According to the most recent Gallup poll, Trump's approval rating is 8 percent with black Americans.
Newman regularly defended Trump when he faced backlash over his handling of racially sensitive issues.
When the president blamed “both sides” for the violence that led to the death of a counterprotester during a rally held by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Manigault Newman came to the president’s side on Fox News before pivoting to mention that former president Barack Obama did not criticize violence she said was at the hands of Black Lives Matter activists.
However, following her resignation from the White House — or firing, depending on which White House source you ask — Manigault Newman told “Good Morning America” host Michael Strahan that the Trump administration’s actions toward black Americans were “upsetting” and “uncomfortable.”
“As the only African American woman in this White House, as a senior staff and assistant to the president, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people,” she said.
It is not clear how often Manigault Newman articulated these concerns to Trump — if ever — but the first time most Americans heard her express her discomfort as “an African American woman” was days after African American women overwhelmingly voted against a Senate candidate who they viewed as an Alabama version of Trump.
It is this silence that led many black voters to view Newman as a poor representation of their interest in a White House that has been viewed as one of the most hostile to black Americans in recent history.
Addressing Manigault Newman through the TV, Angela Rye, former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said Wednesday on CNN:
“Bye honey! You have never represented the community. You are skin folk. We don’t own you ... Goodbye. Good riddance. Goodbye. Deuces!”
Manigault Newman will continue to collect salary, which was the top level for White House staff at $179,700, until Jan. 20 and it is not clear whether the White House will replace her position. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president has had conversations about the importance of connecting with the black community with Carson and Sen. Tim Scott (R.-S.C.), the only black Republican in the Senate.
When asked if there are other black senior officials in the White House, Sanders could not provide a number.
“I don't have a number directly in front of me specifically on African Americans, but I can say again we have a very diverse team at the White House,” she said Thursday. “Certainly, very diverse team in the press office, and something that we strive for every day is to add and grow and be more diverse and representative of the country at large.”
But for all the talk this week about how much the Democratic Party ignores black women, there is a number the Republican Party may not want to ignore if it wants to improve its standing with black women:
A recent poll reported that only 1 percent of black women said the Republican Party has their best interests in mind.
During the presidential campaign, the president sought black Americans asking: “What the hell do you have to lose?”
As of this moment, the answer appears to be going from having a black president in the White House to having no black representation at all.