The unfolding feud between President Trump and erstwhile White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman is not just another pointless and ugly kerfuffle between our emotionally unstable leader and one of his current or former quislings. It is an episode that could inflict significant damage on the president.
I don't just mean because Omarosa claims to have more tapes of damning White House conversations that she secretly recorded. The content of those tapes could certainly hurt the president. But perhaps more damaging is the way Omarosa is undermining Trump's greatest piece of self-crafted mythology: that he is a brawler, a feared and dangerous intimidator who gets things done by virtue of his strength and deal-making prowess.
Omarosa is giving the country and world an inside look at who Trump really is — and proving that even most people in Trump's orbit, including his own advisers, consider the president an object of ridicule, embarrassment, and potential exploitation.
On Monday, Omarosa dropped a tape of Trump pretending not to know that she was getting fired. "No … I, I — Nobody even told me about it," the president stammered. Nothing says courage like blaming an employee's firing on someone else and feigning ignorance.
She also released a tape of a discussion between former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson and staffer Lynne Patton speculating about whether the president used the N-word many years ago. At one point Pierson noted, "He said it ... He's embarrassed." (Pierson's muddled attempt at damage control is already legendary). On Tuesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in perhaps her most honest moment in the national spotlight, said that she "couldn't guarantee" that such a tape does not exist. She may as well have just produced the tape herself.
Hoping that President Trump violating yet another taboo of American public life will be his undoing is probably naïve. It's another "WE GOT HIM!" moment so deftly parodied by John Oliver. Trump's virulent racism is either assumed and unremarkable to or shared by his followers, who are unlikely to abandon him over this tape, even if it is one day released.
We all know that the mythology of Trump as a strong, impulsive leader, the guy whose followers stick with him despite the non-stop circus because he's saying what needs to be said and doing what needs to be done, is a core part of his appeal. But no one beyond his base believes it.
Why would Chinese President Xi Jinping, the leader of one of the most powerful countries on Earth, fear Trump when some former White House aide clearly does not? Trump is supposed to intimidate Germany when he can't even push a minor functionary and C-list celebrity around?
The riddle here isn't hard to solve: Neither Omarosa nor anyone else is afraid of the petulant, insecure whirlwind of self-pity, paranoia, and hate in the Oval Office. Instead, she sees him just like other world leaders do — as a blithering idiot, a careless man who constantly makes himself vulnerable to blackmail with his corrupt behavior, slapdash management practices, and lack of baseline impulse control, an unpredictable buffoon who uses people and throws them away at the slightest provocation. The only fear that the president successfully instills in others is about the way his boorishness, bad decision-making, and stupidity might ruin their lives simply by virtue of being associated with him or made complicit in his misdeeds.
Omarosa has clearly been plotting this extravagant revenge saga since long before her position in the White House was threatened. Indeed, it seems likely that this was her game all along. She gambled that the president and his skeleton staff of insecure, unaccomplished, small-time crooks would be too stupid to realize she was essentially creating her own found-footage horror movie about this dumpster fire of a government. Whether it was an act of self-preservation or an elaborate publicity stunt matters less than the ease with which she was able to carry it off.
She is also proving once again that President Trump is a comically poor judge of character. The president's hiring philosophy, such as it is, is really coming back to haunt him here. He inadvertently revealed the "process" behind Omarosa's invitation into the inner sanctum of American power while attacking her relentlessly on Twitter. "When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn't work out," he wrote during one of his Twitter fugue states. He said that everyone in the White House "hated her." She was "vicious but not smart." Nevertheless, when John Kelly wanted to fire her, Trump claims, in spite of all this, that "I told him to try working it out, if possible, because she only said GREAT things about me — until she got fired!" In that same tweet cyclone, the president felt comfortable calling Omarosa, an African American woman, a "dog."
Set aside the hateful, racist, misogynist insult for a moment. Why would the president choose to bring someone that he regards as a "lowlife" and someone who needed a "break" into an important position in U.S. government? The White House isn't a make-work program for crazy people. Omarosa was among the more spectacular television villains of all time, someone whose legendary inability to work with others meant that Trump never actually hired her on his idiotic TV show. If you were the newly elected president of United States would one of your first personnel moves be the woman who dumped a glass of wine on Piers Morgan's head on national television (as satisfying as it might be to think about pouring a drink on Piers Morgan)?
Omarosa is a legendary villain and liar. How could Trump and Co. have not suspected that she might double-cross them? This is a group of people so paranoid and lacking in basic human trust that they had White House staffers sign illegal and unenforceable non-disclosure agreements, another feature of Trump's toxic corporate culture that has been imported wholesale into our national life. Are we to believe that it did not occur to any of them that someone might respond to this absurd abuse of executive power by making tape recordings? If Omarosa was able to pull this stunt on seemingly everyone working for Trump including the president of the United States himself, can you imagine what the leaders of hostile foreign countries have been able to get away with while in the presence of the president and his team?
And that is the real lesson here. When Trump is alone in a room with Vladimir Putin, who do you think has the upper hand? The dictator whose darkly ingenious disinformation and espionage campaign has plunged America into a years-long political crisis? Or the guy who got punked by Apprentice loser Omarosa Manigault Newman?