Critic's Notebook: Omarosa's Surprisingly Effective Trump-Baiting Book Tour

The Daily Show Trevor Noah Omarosa - Screengrab - H 2018
Screengrab/YouTube

The fired White House staffer ups the presidential reality show stakes with the publicity tour for her new book 'Unhinged.'

How do you solve a problem like Omarosa?

For Donald Trump's White House, the usual way. The last several days have seen a blitzkrieg of Trumpian tweets targeting former communications staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman as she promotes her not so coyly titled new book Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House. Trump has apparently not learned his lesson, as much like they did for Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, his incendiary tweets are likely to rocket his former employee's book straight to the top of the best-seller list.

Trump has also taken legal action against Manigault Newman, despite the fact that nondisclosure agreements signed by government employees cannot be enforced. Nonetheless, the arbitration threat had a slightly dampening effect during her most recent television appearance on Tuesday's night The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Not that she seemed too cowed.

"If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear," she told host Trevor Noah.

Complimented by Noah for being someone who's "managed to out-Trump Trump," Omarosa displayed the steeliness that made her a star on The Apprentice and its spinoff Celebrity Apprentice. "I thought he could rise to the occasion of being presidential, and boy was I wrong!" she declared.

"This White House has a credibility problem," she went on, in a rare example of understatement. Omarosa defended her taping of private conversations with such figures as Trump and John Kelly, and Noah amusingly praised the high quality of the recordings. She also hinted that there are more to come, sounding like Beyonce about to surprise-drop a new album.

Asked the best way to counter Trump, Omarosa responded, "Don't give him the oxygen. If you ignore him, then you starve him of the things he loves the most, and that is controversy and attention."  

Setting aside the irony of that statement coming from someone who's now attacking Trump as enthusiastically as she once praised him, the advice was quixotic. Trump, who uses his presidential bully pulpit with all the dignity of a pimple-faced teenager writing on his middle school bathroom wall, is impossible to ignore. The depressing spectacle that has taken place over the last several days (well, the last couple of years, actually) was all too typical of his reality show presidency. When you surround yourself with the "best people," whose ranks include not only Omarosa but also Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, things will inevitably go south. It also begs the question of why Trump would hire someone he now describes as "a dog," "a crazed, crying lowlife," "wacky" and "deranged."

You do have to hand it to Omarosa for her sheer moxie in taping Kelly, one of the most senior figures in the administration, in no less a secure environment than the Situation Room. Kelly at least came across as reasonably professional during the encounter, although his veiled threats to her reputation made him sound like a Mafia consigliere. It was her recording of her phone call with Trump, in which he absurdly claimed not to have any knowledge of her firing, that was far more surreal.

Despite his extensive media experience, Trump delivered a performance of such staggering awfulness it made you wonder how he ever managed to convince anybody of anything. "I don't love you leaving at all," he told Omarosa, probably recycling a line he's used to break up with countless women. Overselling it, he quietly muttered "Goddamn it!" and haplessly commented, "They run a big operation." Who "they" are was left unexplained, but it is comforting to think that Trump isn't actually running things.

Omarosa had an explanation for Trump's comments during her earlier appearance on NBC's Today. "John Kelly is running the White House, and Donald Trump has no clue what's going on," she told host Savannah Guthrie. "He's being puppeted." Omarosa expressed concern that Trump isn't really in charge, but considering that in her book she describes him as a "racist, a bigot and a misogynist" and someone who's "mentally declined," Kelly seems a preferable choice. Although not by much.

It was a very awkward interview, with Omarosa frequently getting combative when challenged. "You don't have to ask 10 questions in one second," she rebuked Guthrie at one point. "Calm down," she advised at another. Apparently aggrieved at not being taken at her word, Omarosa finally shut things down even while Guthrie desperately tried to keep her talking.

"You know that it's a seven-minute interview? Now, it's at 10," Omarosa said testily. She implied she had somewhere else to be, as if the show's average viewership of more than 4 million wasn't worth the bother.

Whether an audio recording of Trump saying the "N-word" exists or not is probably a moot point. Much like the infamous alleged "pee tape," its release would probably have no effect on his devoted supporters. Considering the degree to which they've embraced his vulgarity and racism, it might only add to his popularity.