Omarosa on Presidential Debate: "Donald Trump Was Made for Moments Like This"
The reality TV villainess weighs in on debate-night jitters, the pluses of being an entertainer in politics and addresses her eyebrow-raising statement made to PBS' 'Frontline' that Trump's naysayers will "bow down" to him come election day.
Since they first crossed paths in 2004 on the first season of NBC's The Apprentice, an unlikely mutual-admiration society sprouted between Donald J. Trump and Omarosa Onee Manigault. The latter — who parlayed her appearance on that series into a flourishing career as a reality TV villainess (including two seasons of The Celebrity Apprentice) — has been beating the drum loudly for her former TV boss since his presidential campaign announcement in June 2015. For her fidelity, Trump has rewarded Omarosa with an appointment to director of African-American outreach for the campaign. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Omarosa (it's just the one name now) about debate-night jitters, the pluses of being an entertainer in politics and her eyebrow-raising statement made to PBS' Frontline that Trump's naysayers will "bow down" to him come election day.
There are a lot of nerves tonight. How are you feeling?
I’ve known him for so long, I’ve done so many seasons of live television — because remember all our finales were live — and Donald Trump was made for moments like this. The higher the stakes the more he is in his element.
They say there’s different versions of Donald Trump. Do you agree with that? And which version are we going to see tonight?
It’s interesting that they say that because, you know, I used to work in the White House under the Clintons, and I think the same thing could be said about her as well. I mean, the great thing about DJT is there is an authenticity to him that’s not robotic like she is. Everything she says is so scripted and shaded and choreographed. It’s very obvious with DJT is authentic and real. There are many facets of all of us. The good thing is I’ve gotten to see so many sides of him over the past 15 years. I’ve seen the boardroom Donald Trump. I’ve seen him in the actual field when we were producing a reality show together. I’ve seen him with his children and grandchildren. I’ve seen him in the primary debates. I was with him the night he won the New York primary. I was there the night he became the actual nominee. I’ve seen him in all these situations. The one thing that has been consistent is Donald Trump knows exactly who he is. He is very present in the moment and he owns it. And that you have to respect.
Several major news outlets over the weekend broke down the many lies he’s told on the campaign trail. Do your ears perk up at all when he speaks, thinking, “Well, that wasn’t true?” Was that how he was on The Apprentice as well? Or do you think everything he says is true?
I think that first of all we’re in the midst of a very competitive presidential election. And seeing as I’ve been in politics for so long, starting in the White House at 23, I know that different candidates take different approaches. It’s been interesting for me to see Hillary Clinton stand in front of the country and say, “Oh, I use one device,” or, “I didn’t know those things were classified,” or, “I turned everything over to the FBI,” when she actually deleted 30,000 emails. So it’s very difficult for me to hear people talk about which candidate is being truthful or not when you have a candidate who is currently under FBI investigation. Because of her lies, she’s wasted millions and millions of dollars in investigations throughout her career. I think it’s really ironic that she would be pointing the finger at Donald Trump asking for the truth. We want the truth about Benghazi. We want the truth about Wall Street speeches. We want the truth about her foundation. All of us want the truth in this process.
So the answer is all is all is fair in an election and both sides lie and it’s all part of the game?
I think both sides make their case and it’s up to the American people to decide if it helps or not.
You’ve been getting a lot of attention for what you said in the PBS documentary about people bowing down to Trump when he wins.
Did you watch the whole thing?
I watched the promotional clip, yes.
I think it’s so interesting that people are looking at a clip, an isolated clip. You need to watch the whole documentary. Promos are exactly that, they get people to tune in. And this is going to probably be the highest-rated documentary in PBS history because of that one clip.
It’s definitely alarming, or caught my attention I should say.
It’s just another way to say “eat crow,” another way of saying they’re going to have to eat their words. People have said over and over again that Donald Trump would not run, first of all, then that he wouldn’t become the nominee. Then they said he wouldn’t win the presidency. It’s all not true. Here we are on the eve of the most important debate of our lives. He is the Republican nominee going head to head with someone they described as “the most qualified person to ever run for president.” I think there will be a lot of people who will have to admit that they were wrong. They took a position on Donald Trump that was not correct. Maybe my promo was done to, and it is, generate significant ratings because of that one little clip. But I would encourage your readers to watch the whole documentary. I could have said “humble pie.” The way I put it was intended to get people to go, “Oh my gosh, we were wrong.” They will have to acknowledge that he exceeded all their expectations. That’s all I was trying to say.
I think the reason it struck such a nerve is because there are all these fears that he has a potentate-side to his personality. That he would abuse the power. So using language like “bow down” stokes those fears.
But he wasn’t speaking, I was. And explicitly to address all the people from the beginning. And I was there from the beginning, from the time of [the Clinton email scandal breaking]. All these naysayers saying negative things. Piling it on. The point I was making still stands. It might have been a provocative way to put it, but gosh, the amount of eyeballs that have gone to PBS’ website alone were breaking records for PBS all for that clip. People forget: I’m an entertainer too.
That’s an interesting point. You’re an entertainer. He’s an entertainer. How much of this election do you think has been sheer entertainment?
Wait a minute. Let’s also acknowledge that one of the greatest presidents, Ronald Reagan, was also an entertainer. Don’t forget that they said the same things about him. “Oh, he won’t be a good president.” “We can’t take him seriously.” “How dare this movie star try to become a politician.” Obviously he became a good president. So I’m not going to let anyone dismiss Donald Trump, or myself, because he’s an entertainer. Before he went on The Apprentice, he was cutting billion-dollar deal. It’s just one of the many labels they should put on him. He’s a brilliant business, developer, father, entrepreneur, philanthropist. People try to say “reality star” to put him down, but he was getting $1 million an episode. Probably one of the highest-paid entertainers in that genre.
He appointed you to oversee African-American outreach for the campaign. Lately he’s been saying two things in stump speeches: That things have never been worse in the country’s African-American communities; and that he’d like to see the widespread implementation of stop-and-frisk policing policies. How do those talking points make you feel?
I have to tell you that I don’t want to see another young man killed by police. I don’t want to see another mother in front of cameras crying the loss of her child. Having lost my brother to violence two and a half years ago, my brother was murdered, it resonates with me.
And your father as well.
My father as well. It is very, very bad. The numbers don’t lie. In recent history this is the worst we’ve seen. How many police shootings have we seen this year? How many riots? You’ve seen the Black Lives Matter folks who are protesting that people are not listening to their cause. And I have to tell you the conditions of young black men are most alarming. When you look at Chicago and how many murders are happening it’s just unacceptable. So the best thing for us to do is find out a realistic way to bring about peace in the inner city and improve living in the inner city. So if [Trump’s] number’s aren’t exact, at least the conditions are. In my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, it’s bad. We need jobs. We need someone to fight for us. He is going to fight and earn their vote.
So you support stop-and-frisk?
That was the answer to the first part of your question. In terms of stop-and-frisk, he was very specific to Chicago. And stop-and-frisk is already in place in Chicago. I don’t know if you know that. There has been some modifications to it. His thoughts are if he could do something like that, at least try something, to curtail the number of deaths and shootings happening there.
For people not familiar with your history with the Clintons, what did you do for them?
My first job, I worked in Al Gore’s office as a scheduling and advance person. I also sat in the office and responded to congressional requests. Then I got promoted to deputy associate director of presidential personnel. I worked for Bob Nash, who I just ran into at the Democratic Convention. It was so lovely. I got to go to confirmation hearings on the hill and vet candidates and that sort of thing. But one of the things I got to do is interact with the president and the first lady. That was really interesting to be a part of that. But then the impeachment scandal happened and I was very vocal about it. It wasn’t cool with me that we had to just sit there and take it.
Were you a Democrat at that time?
I was a Democrat until last June when Donald Trump announced. I’m a Trumplican. I’m the first of the Trumplicans.
You know what a Trumplican is? We’re like a Reagan Democrat. They crossed over to support Reagan to get him elected. There is a whole movement in the Democratic party of African-Americans like myself, and just Democrats, who have changed party affiliation because they want to see him become the next President of the United States.
What’s your prediction for the election?
Donald J. Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. Without a doubt.