Omarosa Manigault Newman, the reality show villain who campaigned for Donald Trump and followed him into the White House, is an amoral, dishonest, mercenary grifter. This makes her just like most people in Trump’s orbit. What separates her from them is that she might be capable of a sliver of shame.
Naturally, Manigault Newman’s new book, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” is self-serving, a way to avenge her 2017 firing and make money telling us what we already know about this wretched administration. Nevertheless, she had other options for cashing in. She has revealed that she was offered a $15,000-a-month position on the Trump re-election campaign in exchange for keeping her mouth shut. She could have had a career in right-wing media; an African-American celebrity willing to say that the Republican Party isn’t racist will always find patrons.
Instead, she chose to speak out against the man who made her a star, and repent for her complicity in electing him. She may be a manipulative narcissist, but she’s behaving more honorably than any other former Trump appointee.
That’s not a high bar, and I wouldn’t take most of the claims of “Unhinged” at face value. But we don’t have to, because Manigault Newman has receipts. When I got a prepublication copy of the book on Friday, I wasn’t sure what to think of the scene in which Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, fires her, making thuggish threats to destroy her reputation if she doesn’t go quietly. On Sunday, “Meet the Press” played her recording of the exchange, which unfolds exactly as she described.
Similarly, I didn’t quite trust her account of the post-firing phone call she received from Trump, in which the president expressed surprise and dismay that she has been let go. “No one even told me,” she quotes him saying, adding, “I don’t love you leaving at all.” But on Monday, the “Today” show played Manigault Newman’s recording of this exchange. And that $15,000-a-month contract? You can read it yourself in The Washington Post.
Of course, just because Manigault Newman is telling the truth about some things doesn’t prove that she’s telling the truth about everything, including the alleged existence of outtakes from “The Apprentice” in which Trump uses racial slurs. “Unhinged” has lots of evidence-free gossip, including speculation that Trump was sleeping with Paula White, the pretty blond prosperity-gospel preacher who gave the invocation at his inauguration. My opinion of Trump could scarcely be lower, but I won’t be convinced that he floated the idea of being sworn in on “The Art of the Deal” instead of the Bible, as Manigault Newman claims, until I hear it myself. (Lordy, I hope there are tapes.)
Still, there’s no question she has useful knowledge of our ruling clique. Perhaps the most interesting thing about “Unhinged” is its insights into how Manigault Newman, a former Democrat who’d worked in Bill Clinton’s White House, rationalized being part of Trump’s white nationalist campaign. I’ve always been mystified by how the president’s enablers, who understand his venality and incompetence, justify their behavior to themselves. (Even most bad people want to believe that they’re good.) Manigault Newman is an unreliable narrator, but her book is still the best account we have of how the Trump cult — a term she uses repeatedly — looks from the inside.
Her version of her own motivations is probably sugarcoated, but it still isn’t pretty. She’d been part of a pro-Hillary Clinton “super PAC” and was bitter that she didn’t get a job on Clinton’s campaign. Meanwhile, Manigault Newman, who grew up in poverty, knew she owed her cherished celebrity to Trump. (As she points out, he likes to surround himself with fame-worshiping people whose fortunes depend on him.) “The Trump team, unlike HRC, was true to its word and had officially brought me on board as a senior adviser and director,” she writes. “Regardless of whether Mr. Trump was being taken seriously, I was.”
She suppressed whatever unease she felt about selling out by trying to convince herself that she was representing African-American interests in the campaign and administration. Manigault Newman did graduate work at Howard, the revered historically black university. She had roots in African-American Democratic politics. When she switched sides to back Trump, the disgust of old friends and colleagues hurt. Throughout “Unhinged,” you sense her trying to explain herself to them.
Studies have shown that the people who are most likely to leave cults are those who maintain intimate links to people outside them. Manigault Newman, who last year married a pastor who campaigned for Hillary Clinton, could never fully sever ties with Trump critics.
In the end, you don’t have to trust her sincerity to see “Unhinged” as a serious indictment of Trump. Either she is telling the truth when she calls Trump “a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist” in serious mental decline, or the Trump campaign’s former director of African-American outreach, a woman frequently called upon to testify to Trump’s lack of racism, is a lying con artist. No matter how little credibility Manigault Newman has, the man who gave her a top-ranking job in his administration has less.