Omarosa Manigault appeared on The Apprentice in its first season in 2004. She is now working as director of African-American outreach in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Harvard Political Review: You’ve known Donald Trump for over a decade now. What’s surprised you the most about him?
Omarosa Manigault: What surprises me? Nothing after thirteen years.
HPR: At first was there something that surprised you? Caught you off-guard?
OM: Back in 2003?
HPR: Yes, when you first started shooting The Apprentice.
OM: Well, before starting to shoot The Apprentice in my business class as an undergrad we studied everything there was to know about Donald Trump. The release of The Art of the Deal was a must-read book for any kind of business student. My finance professor made us read The Art of the Deal. So I studied everything there was to know about Donald Trump, inside and out. And I felt that if you wanted to work for him, to run one of his companies, to be his apprentice, that you should know everything and every facet of his life. I made sure there was no fact—public fact—about Donald Trump that I did not know. I basically knew everything from birthday to favorite quotes to favorite foods to what his likes and dislikes were in business.
HPR: Was there anything about his personality or his behavior, perhaps in your first shoot of The Apprentice, that you wouldn’t have anticipated based off Art of the Deal?
OM: I guess I wasn’t expecting him to have such a good sense of humor. There were times when we were shooting and there might be a little blooper from one of the contestants or one of the other judges, and he would just crack them up. And because he’s portrayed as such a serious person it was very surprising to see him just laughing, having a good time. And our boardrooms were hours and hours long. In any given time in those three, four hour sessions, you would hear him laugh or enjoy a good joke.
HPR: Moving into the election—
OM: So you’re going to skip from 2003 to 2016? [laughs]
HPR: Jumping over ten years here. I want to talk about what you feel is at stake here. Mr. Trump has asked rhetorically to black voters, “What do you have to lose?” What do you think African Americans would lose under a Hillary Clinton presidency?
OM: Let’s start with your first question, what’s at stake. For the first time, the status quo is at stake. Donald Trump is not your traditional candidate. He doesn’t come from the establishment. He’s not a career politician. He is an independently wealthy businessman who is not indebted to any special interest and he is not controlled by any lobbyist. He truly is probably one of the most free candidates to run for president ever. When I say free, I mean that he is able to create his own vision that is not influenced by someone else’s agenda. And he is able to advance that agenda and his passion, which as we know very well is to make America great again. So what’s at stake is the status quo. There are people who hope to maintain it. There are people who want to destroy it. There are people who don’t understand it.
But one of the things that Mr. Trump thinks is unacceptable is for children living in abject poverty, for mothers having to bury their children in the streets of Chicago, for hardworking Americans not to be able to even find jobs in communities where they were thriving eight years ago. That’s what’s at stake.
For African American voters, what do you have to lose—seven years ago, we were made some promises. This theme of hope resonated for African Americans, for several reasons. We wanted to believe that things would change, that things would improve, that we would be a priority for once. There was someone who looked like us in the White House, someone who could relate to our issues and our conditions and our sufferings and our circumstances in this country. And so we were sold on the theme of hope.
And then you fast forward and you have to look and you ask yourself, “Are African Americans better off now than they were seven years ago?” Well, the data says no. No matter what side you’re on, when you look at the numbers, unemployment up, home ownership down, the number of African American men who are incarcerated, the number of African American men who have dropped out of school, the number of African American youth who are out of school, unemployed—the data doesn’t look good.
And so the question “what do you have to lose,” after trusting, putting your faith in and supporting someone who made promises to the community to deliver, it’s a big gamble for a community who traditionally votes 90 plus percent for the Democratic Party. It’s a risk, but any great game requires a great risk. But with our current situation being as dire as it is, when you’re at the bottom, where do you go but up? And I like that he is challenging African Americans to look at what thirty, forty years of loyalty to the Democratic Party which has not been to them has done. Has it changed anything? Has it improved your life?
I grew up in a small town called Youngstown, Ohio. It was a big steel mill town, and my family is still there. The average income in Youngstown is $13,700, right above the poverty level. Sixty, seventy percent of my family, hard-working Americans, still live at or a little above the poverty line. Someone has to come in who’s willing to fight for them, to fight for us. Who’s going to be that person? It’s going to require us—and when I say us I mean African Americans, and we’re not a monolith but I’m going to paint with a really broad brush—it’s going to require us to do something we’ve never done.
HPR: You used to work in the White House in the Clinton administration and did some work with the first lady. Do you think there’s anything Donald Trump could learn from Hillary Clinton based on your experiences working with her?
OM: That woman is tenacious [laughs]. Tenacity, audacity, persistence—she’s been in politics how many years? Thirty years? Forty years? It’s pretty remarkable.
HPR: What would you say are the biggest differences you’ve found working on a team with Donald Trump and with Hillary Clinton?
OM: I worked with her husband, out of fairness, and I had the opportunity to do events with her. I’d like to share with you a picture from my own commencement, to which she was my commencement speaker. Since I was working at the White House at the time I got to actually advance her for my own commencement.
I want to share a picture with you of the first lady who I knew. This picture was taken at Howard University, and I was graduating with my master’s degree. That’s in the president’s office prior to commencement. So that’s the first lady I knew.
The interesting thing about the first lady then, the first lady I knew, and the first lady now, is that the first lady who I knew back then, her complete and total commitment was to helping advance others. And I find that her complete and total commitment now is to advance herself and her husband and her interests. When I listen to themes—and I don’t have any metadata, I haven’t done some analysis of her speeches—but if I was just to do qualitative analysis of her speeches, what jumps out at me often is this “me, me, me.” Whereas if you did a casual, qualitative analysis of Donald Trump, he’s talking about fighting for you, you, you, whereas it seems that [Clinton] is fighting for herself and her interests, [saying] “they’re attacking me, they’re bringing me down, they’re getting in my way, they’re stopping me, me, me” as opposed to us, us, us.
That’s the big difference, a shift from fighting for us to fighting for just herself.
HPR: When you look at Donald Trump’s campaign for president, going back to June 2015, are there any moments, any decisions, that you disagreed with? Where you perhaps would have done something differently, said something differently?
OM: I think us not fundraising early on was. We’re making up for it now, because fundraising isn’t just about money. It’s building a database of people you can get $25 from them now, and you can get another $25 down, and you can get another $25 in the primary, and you can get another $100 in the general. So really it was just not having that apparatus in place.
Of course [Clinton] had that apparatus in place because she ran for president in 2008. She could just continue a database from when [Bill Clinton] ran for the governor’s office, when he ran for president in 1992 and then again in 1996, and then her race…so they had a fundraising apparatus with a database that was quite extensive. Mr. Trump didn’t have that, which meant that on the day he announced, there should have been a fundraising mechanism in place. But a big part of his messaging and branding was that he was financing his own campaign, which he did. But in doing that, we didn’t have an extensive database of folks who we could go back to, depend on, get messaging to, and tap into for future contributions. But now we’re making up for it, since the debate which was just, what, 48 hours ago. We raised $18 million.
HPR: How do you respond when someone calls the campaign, calls Trump, racist?
OM: I don’t respond anymore. When you hear something that’s untrue, over and over again, you just become immune to it. At first, back in last June, when I first heard it, I was so taken aback. I was just like, the idea that [I was] powwowing and hanging out and working with a man that didn’t like black people, I was just like, this is just a newsflash to me! [laughs] Could you imagine? That here we are, particularly the African American cast members of the three seasons [of The Apprentice] that I appeared on, the production staff, the network folks, just could you imagine that all of us had been duped? And all of a sudden you wake up in June of 2015 and discover that the person you’ve known and worked with didn’t like you? I mean, it was just at first really shocking. But I’ve been in politics long enough to realize that people ultimately can decide between what’s truth and what’s not true. Between what is fact and what is not factual. And clearly, clearly, that’s not factual.
I guess the Clinton campaign believes that if you say something long enough that people will believe it. And so any opportunity they get they throw that title at him. But as an African American woman who has stood with him for many years, I can tell you that the definition of a racist is a person who does not like African Americans, does not want to work with them, does not want to be around them, does not want to advance them. That has not been my experience.
Image credit: Breitbart