Omarosa is a Symptom of Too Much Winning
One of Donald Trump's most parodied and ridiculed remarks is about 'winning'. It was an incredible minute of confident delivery, where he used the term 'win' unironically a full fifteen times. "We're gonna start winning again, we're gonna win so much, we're gonna win at every level, we're going to win economically, we're going to win with the economy, we're going to win with the military, we're going to win with healthcare, and for our veterans, we're going to win every single facet, we're going to win so much, you may even get tired of winning. And you'll say, 'please, please, it's too mcuh winning, we can't take it anymore, Mr. President, it's too much.' And I'll say, 'no it isn't, we have to keep winning, we have to win MORE, we're going to win MORE, we're going to win so much." While it's easy to make fun of, or throw back in his face when he suffers a political setback, it's a rare bit of insight into a man who, while simple, hasn't been easy to understand. Is it malicious chaos? Self-enrichment? A hatred of his predecessor? A lust for attention? A potent cocktail of all of these? While Trump's Twitter feed provides a clear line of sight directly into what he's thinking, it offers little clarity on his worldview, motivations, or his decision-making. But a riff about winning is more valuable than an entire library of covfefe'd tweets.
Winning is a carnal understanding. Binary. You either win or you don't, and when you don't, that's called losing. It used to be about things like food (you either ate or you starved), and procreation (you passed on your genes or you didn't). Now it's about things like being President. It's the reason he uses that sentiment so often – everyone can understand what winning feels like. And if someone tells you that you're winning, you're inclined to believe them. When there's no scoreboard and you trust your coach, you'll trust him when he tells you that it was a moral victory.
The winning-or-losing mentality is a useful construct through which to view many of Trump's decisions. Remember when he argued that his electoral college win was the biggest since Ronald Reagan's? When pointed out that he was wrong (both Clinton and Obama got more in both their respective elections), he changed the paradigm of the game. After all, he couldn't lose, so he changed the rules, instead 'clarifying' that he was talking about Republican presidents only. When he was once again corrected (Bush Sr. got more in his one election, while Bush Jr. got fewer in both of his), he deflects, saying that he was 'just given that information.' While most used that clip as evidence for his apparent proclivity to lie, they didn't quite catch the last bit. Following that entire exchange (where the reporter accused Trump of himself being the messenger of fake news), Trump countered with, "but it was a very substantial victory, would you agree with that?" Once again, he changed the rules. From 'the biggest since Reagan', to 'the biggest for a Republican' to 'a very substantial one', he absolutely had to win.
A more recent example is the somehow-ongoing Stormy Daniels kerfuffle – originally, Trump denied that the payment happened, then said he simply didn’t know about it (re-defining the parameters as 'knowledge of'), then saying that the payment came from him, not out of the campaign (choosing to focus on the technicality of the payment method). That's three battles and three wins. And without the threat of criminal prosecution (it's legal consensus that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted until after he is removed from office by election or impeachment), Trump is playing with house money.
Naturally, every President (or presidential candidate) has to have some of this DNA. There's an inherent narcissism to running for that office – by running, you suggest that of the eight billion people in the world, you are singularly the best person to do the most important job there is. But usually, there is something beneath the winning, another layer to be uncovered. The winning gives way to something else, the presidency is the means rather than the end. With Trump, this doesn't seem to be the case. The earliest leaks in the administration back in the beginning of 2017 suggested that Trump spent most of his day roaming the White House and discussing his electoral victory, and that he had something called 'executive time' penciled into his daily schedule. It wasn't just that he didn't anticipate winning the election, and was consequently left dumbstruck from the shock. In his mind, he beat the game. There was nothing more to do.
It's the reason that millions of dollars in government funds went to the establishment of a commission to investigate voter fraud, simply from Trump's suggestion that millions of illegally cast ballots cost him the election. By the way, that commission was disbanded in January because 40 states refused to provide the commission with the information they requested. It was good enough to count as a win, so that was it. And it's no secret that Trump makes a habit of undoing everything (Paris Climate Accord, Iran Nuclear Deal, Affordable Care Act, DACA, regulation rollback, etc.) that Barrack Obama ever did. It's not just out of spite – it's because he views Obama as a loser. After all, how is someone who isn't American (as Trump believes) be a winner? No one cared about things like inauguration crowd sizes, and probably wouldn't have if it wasn't given hot air by Sean Spicer's response. Once the game was defined, there was no excuse for bringing home an L. From his perspective, Donald Trump was winning, to the point where he had to stop and catch a breath. And that is when Omarosa swooped in.
Omarosa Manigault-Newman is no stranger to being recorded. She's been on reality television for well over a decade, all the way back to the very first season of Donald Trump's The Apprentice. Even before that, she worked in the Clinton administration, where she was undoubtedly subject to rigorous scrutiny by supervisors and security. Since, she's starred on Celebrity Apprentice, All-Star Celebrity Apprentice, Fear Factor, Celebrity Big Brother, and a show called The Ultimate Merger, a show that was pretty much like The Bachelorette, but where the bachelorette was Omarosa (The show ended with her picking no one… seriously, that was a real thing). Most of her adult life has quite literally been about winning. And in recent weeks, she chose a new opponent.
Thus far, Omarosa has released video and audio recordings from her time in Trump's White House. Much of the discussion surrounding her has (rightfully) focused on the content of the recordings, the intent behind the release, and the potential political ramifications from what these recordings might reveal. There was even some chatter about the significance of having a recording from inside the situation room, a place where the most sensitive national security topics are discussed. But there has been little noise around the fact that these recordings exist, period. Someone was able to tape the President of the United States.
Of course, making these tapes is hardly an impressive feat. Anyone can tape anyone, especially over the phone – there is a whole category of apps to do just this (and most of them are free). But what the recordings reveal is explicit incompetence, a man who upon firing one of his employees and making someone else do the actual firing, pretended to not know about the firing and feigned sympathy and outrage at the apparently irreversible decision. Now this isn't important intelligence in the classic sense – it has nothing to do with national security, foreign relations, or a covert operation (Trump's strengths or weaknesses have never come from actual substance or anything of the sort). It's a simple HR matter. But it's a loss. And that's important.
When faced with material, tangible evidence that contradicts what he is saying (even when said evidence might be something he said only a few days or sentences ago), Trump resorts to one of his tricks, usually by changing the rules. But Omarosa isn't a talking head on a news network, bound by the constraints of professionalism or performative neutrality. She is wired just like Donald Trump. She sees herself as a shrewd businesswoman, a winner in her own eyes. She chooses her supporters – for a while, she was Trump's black friend that the right pointed to as evidence that he was not racist, now the left is almost forced to defend her because she may end up being vital in bringing down their arch nemesis. The promise of a pee tape has evolved into the more plausible proposition of an n-word tape. While the actual content of something like that tape may or may not be a political landmine (after all, can his support from black people dip any lower?), it's a single move as part of a larger game. No one so far – no activist, no journalist, no politician – has managed to string together attacks and moves as part of a holistic strategy. Not until now.
Two years into his term, Trump has been at the board by himself, playing the American people handily. There was no one seated across from him, no direct competitor ready to match him move for move. Fortunately, one has arrived. Unfortunately, it's not who we'd like. I just hope that one day, we do get tired of winning.