There have been any number of questionable personnel decisions in President Trump’s White House. Less than a month after he was inaugurated, his national security adviser was forced to resign. His staff secretary resigned after it was revealed that the administration had apparently ignored FBI reports about domestic abuse allegations. The president who told The Washington Post’s Robert Costa during the campaign he would “surround [himself] only with the best and most serious people” has instead overseen rampant turnover, with Trump now on his third national security adviser, fourth communications director and second lots-of-other-things.
He has been in office for less than 20 months.
Given that environment, it takes an exceptionally bad firing to break through and stand out as worthy of note. That brings us to Omarosa Manigault Newman.
Manigault Newman is on a publicity tour for her new book, a collection of eyebrow-raising and often questionable assertions about her time in the White House. Much of what she claims would probably be dismissed out of hand were it not for her deploying a tactic she may very well have learned from Trump himself: taping conversations in which she participated.
On Monday morning, she shared one of those purported recordings with NBC News. In it, Trump expresses regret at her departure from the White House.
“Omarosa, what’s going on? I just saw on the news that you’re thinking about leaving? What happened?” Trump asks. Manigault Newman replies White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly had told her “you guys wanted me to leave.”
Let’s interject here to note, at the time it was announced, Manigault Newman’s hiring was broadly criticized, given her primary qualification seemed to be her loyal parroting of Trump’s rhetoric. Her firing followed general uncertainty about what, exactly, she did during her tenure and various damning reports about her behavior while with the administration. In other words, Manigault Newman getting the boot is the least surprising part of her time with Trump.
But that is not what Trump is heard telling her in the call obtained from Manigault Newman by NBC News.
“You know they run a big operation, but I didn’t know it,” Trump says after she explains she was fired. “I didn’t know that. God damn it. I don’t love you leaving at all.”
Perhaps not unusual for a boss to feign ignorance of a decision to fire a subordinate. So the admission Trump made on Twitter shortly after NBC’s report, though, is one for the record books.
“Wacky Omarosa, who got fired 3 times on the Apprentice, now got fired for the last time,” he wrote on Twitter. “She never made it, never will. She begged me for a job, tears in her eyes, I said Ok. People in the White House hated her. She was vicious, but not smart. I would rarely see her but heard really bad things. Nasty to people & would constantly miss meetings & work.”
“When Gen. Kelly came on board he told me she was a loser & nothing but problems,” he continued. “I told him to try working it out, if possible, because she only said GREAT things about me — until she got fired!”
Trump’s argument is Manigault Newman:
- Was only hired because she begged for a job, and he acquiesced.
- Was not smart.
- Was broadly disliked and mean to people.
- Constantly missed meetings and skipped work.
- Struck Kelly so negatively he suggested she be fired, and, perhaps most damningly.
- Was of such questionable quality as an employee that she failed to win his reality show three times.
But she kept her job, even after Kelly complained — Kelly, whose job was to guide Trump’s White House staff. Why? What is the one quality Manigault Newman possessed that was sufficient for Trump to argue she keep her job?
She praised Trump.
That was it. Maybe there were other things, too, but it is hard to see what they might have been. Trump’s disinterest in shades of nuance means he is making an explicitly negative case about Manigault Newman’s tenure, perhaps obscuring useful things she actually did. Her tenure in the White House, though, offered few public examples of her work product, beneficial or not, and Trump’s tweets on Monday morning certainly did not include any suggestion she was valuable as an employee in any other way. The sole reason Trump wanted to keep her in her position, according to Trump, is she praised him.
This is not surprising, of course. It is clear Trump’s brand of loyalty is both unidirectional and predicated on enthusiasm; it is a lesson people on Capitol Hill learned quickly. It is just sort of stunning the president would explicitly argue the reason he wanted Manigault Newman to continue earning her $179,700 annual salary — despite being nasty to her colleagues and not doing any work — was she said nice things about him.
It is not much of a stretch to see the situation this sets up. A White House led by a president who values praise for himself over ability is a White House that has eliminated even the appearance of relying on merit for staffing and decision-making. If the most important quality for keeping your job in the White House is praising the president, some capable employees will simply work that praise into their daily duties. Other, less- or incapable employees might simply use that praise as a way to maintain access and their jobs.
It extends beyond Washington. When Trump talks about China and Saudi Arabia, he offers praise that often includes mentions of how he was treated when he visited each country: the celebrations that greeted his arrival in Riyadh and the dinner that was thrown in his honor in Beijing. Foreign leaders have learned flattery can be an effective way to manage Trump (see: Putin, Vladimir), and those who offer criticism can find themselves ostracized or, at least, bearing the brunt of Trump’s anger.
The question raised by this obvious focus of Trump’s is a simple one.
If foreign leaders learn pleasing Trump is paramount, what sort of international agreements are likely to result?
If White House staffers come to understand the most important part of their jobs is to serve Trump’s ego, how effectively are they serving the American people?