Trump Aide Omarosa Manigault’s Speech to Sharpton Crowd: A Misadventure

It wasn’t quite the equivalent of entering the lion’s den. But Omarosa Manigault, a black official in the Trump administration, might not want to reenter. On April 27, Manigault (in photo), communications director for the White House Office of Public Liaison, gave a luncheon talk at the annual confab of Al Sharpton’s nonprofit, National Action Network (NAN). Putting on a game face in defending the initiatives of her boss, Donald Trump, she assured the gathering that she would “fight for you in the White House.” The crowd, unimpressed, groaned or gave muted applause throughout. And a subsequent speaker was outright hostile. That Manigault is a member of the Los Angeles NAN chapter did not win her points. The experience should serve notice to “conservatives” that even an informal partnership with the Reverend Al is a losing proposition.

April is a special month on the social calendar of Al Sharpton and his many admirers. It’s when National Action Network holds its annual convention at the Sheraton Times Square in midtown Manhattan. There was a special urgency this time around. For the incumbent president is Donald Trump. And unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, marquee speaker at the 2011 and 2014 NAN extravaganzas, Trump is no fan of Sharpton. And the feeling is mutual. Reverend Sharpton is a racial activist of the hard Left with a long history of demagoguery, in and outside his native New York City, in the service of “social justice.” As my book on the subject noted, his many public relations campaigns on behalf of an ostensibly aggrieved client have distorted the issues, on occasion turning lethal. But he does know his audience. On the morning of January 14, six days before Inauguration Day, for example, Sharpton spelled out his strategic vision at a NAN-sponsored outdoor rally in Washington, D.C. before an overwhelmingly black crowd. In a chilly drizzle, he declared: “We come not to appeal to Donald Trump because he’s made it clear what his policies are and what his nominations are. We come to say to the Democrats in the Senate and in the House and to the moderate Republicans, ‘Get some backbone. Get some guts. We didn’t send you down here to be weak-kneed.’” He specifically appealed to NAN members to lobby senators to oppose the nomination (eventually approved) of Jeff Sessions for attorney general.

While Al Sharpton and Donald Trump aren’t quite ready to make face-to-face nice, they are communicating through an intermediary, Omarosa Manigault, director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison. Manigault, whose married name is Manigault-Newman – she wed several weeks ago – has been a minor celebrity for over a dozen years. Born in 1974, the Youngstown, Ohio native began her career during the Clinton era as a personnel officer for Vice President Al Gore and then, in a similar capacity, at the Commerce Department. Her entrance onto the national stage came in 2004 as a guest on the popular NBC-TV reality program, The Apprentice, a businessman’s version of Battle of the Bands, hosted by future President Donald Trump. Her confrontational “bad girl” persona managed to alienate team members and win viewing audiences. Later, in 2008, Manigault would be a contestant on the Trump-hosted sequel show, Celebrity Apprentice; she received the host’s signature phrase, “You’re fired,” in the 10th episode. Apparently, she didn’t stay fired for long. In June 2010, she and Trump created a short-lived dating show for TV One called The Ultimate Merger. In February 2013, she appeared on Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice All-Stars. Along the line, her political beliefs evolved. In 2015, she announced that she had switched parties from Democrat to Republican. It was a smart career move. In July 2016, during the GOP nominating convention, Manigault announced she had been named African-American outreach director for the Trump presidential campaign. His victory in the November election led to her appointment in January.

As Office of Public Liaison communications director, Omarosa Manigault-Newman knows that it is part of her job to win over tough audiences. And few audiences are tougher than Al Sharpton’s loyal fans. The Rev invited her to speak at a women’s power luncheon last Thursday on April 27, part of National Action Network’s annual four-day convention at the Sheraton Times Square, an invitation she accepted. Manigault announced that her speech would be an “update on the last 100 days of what I have been doing.” The crowd groaned. She then began: “I know what I came into and I’m not scared…I will fight for you in the White House.” She got specific. “Stillman College,” she said, “is fighting to keep its doors open, and I say that more as an appeal to you, because I cannot do this myself.” She also called upon NAN leaders and members to help get clean water to Flint, Michigan, where the water supply as of late has been contaminated. And she noted that the Trump administration is starting up a micro-lending initiative to benefit minority small business owners. She closed her presentation: “I am looking forward to partnering with you, continuing to work on behalf of the National Action Network in Los Angeles but more importantly, the President of the United States.” Here, as before, the audience responded not with cheers but with groans. Not one to back down, she responded: “I know who cashes my checks.”

The man of the hour, Al Sharpton, immediately followed. “I want you to bring a message back that you were respected here at the National Action Network because that’s how we behave,” he said. “We’ve had Bill O’Reilly here, we’ve had Sean Hannity here. We respect you. But I wish the president would respect us.” Actually, President Trump does respect National Action Network; that’s precisely why he encouraged Ms. Manigault to attend. The problem is that he doesn’t agree with NAN on most things – as if he could be blamed for that. Sharpton delivered his big pitch. “You are in a very precarious position because you represent an administration that many of us disagree with,” he said. “But I would not be loyal to what I am if I did not address those issues. I ask you to go back and tell them, ‘Yes, they were respectful…No, they would not allow me to be silenced, but they told me to tell you that we as blacks and women are, in the first 100 days, seeing a disaster in Washington, D.C.” He concluded by turning to Manigault and telling her, “I’m through, Omarosa. Exhale.” Nobody ever denied that the Reverend Al had a sense of humor.

Ms. Manigault at that point excused herself and exited the event. It might have been a good thing, too, given who followed her. That would be Angela Rye, a lawyer and the CEO of a Washington, D.C.-based political advocacy group, IMPACT Strategies. Ms. Rye, a black, knowing she was in her element, hammed it up. “The truth is,” she remarked, “when you tell somebody that you’re going to fight for them, I’m going to tell you how not to fight for them.” She reeled off a list of grievances against Trump, especially during the first 100 days of the administration. She denounced President Trump’s tax reform package by claiming, without evidence, that “the burden of that responsibility will be on the backs of the poor, who are inordinately black and brown people.” She denounced his campaign comment that black voters had nothing to lose by voting for him. And she skewered him for his questioning former President Barack Obama’s place of birth. “How you don’t fight for [your community] is by trivializing our first black president, Barack Obama, by questioning his citizenship, by questioning validity,” said Ms. Rye. “How you don’t fight for us is by pissing on me and telling me it’s rain.” The crowd lustily cheered and stood on their feet. Her parting shot: “Resist, y’all.”

The event wasn’t a true disaster. Omarosa Manigault, after all, knew that she represented the visiting team and took it in stride. But it would be naïve to suggest that her outreach did the Trump administration, or the American people, any good. Indeed, the effort was counterproductive in two ways. First, simply by speaking before a National Action Network convention, she lent credibility to the organization and its founder-president, Al Sharpton. Neither deserves an exalted position on the American political stage. NAN is a tool for demagoguery and will remain as such even after Sharpton steps down. Second, by telling attendees about the good things that the Trump administration is promising to do, Manigault set herself and her boss up for a fall. In the audience’s eyes, Trump already had two strikes against him. These people are all too eager to “discover” a third strike, so as to declare, “He ain’t done nothin’ for us.” That would serve as a cue for Democratic Party leaders and their media courtiers to pronounce the Trump administration “racist” and its policies “failed.” None of President Trump’s enemies are going to be impressed by the fact that Ms. Manigault is a dues-paying member of National Action Network.

Donald Trump and Al Sharpton have known each other a long time. And though they are on opposite sides, they actually are fairly comfortable in each other’s presence. It’s a New York thing. Sharpton acknowledged as much during his talk. “He (Trump) and I have known each other for 30 years,” Sharpton said. “Both of us are outer-borough New Yorkers. He comes from Queens where they don’t mind mixing it up and I come from Brooklyn where we kick butt and take names.” Trump, more than anyone else, knows that the art of the deal, in or out of New York City, requires a strong hand. Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of hand that his emissary, Omarosa Manigault, played last Thursday.