While traditional Republican presidential candidates like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker seem flummoxed by surprise frontrunner Donald Trump, at least one public figure recognizes just how much Trump has upended the political landscape: Omarosa Manigault, a former staffer for then-Vice President Al Gore and three-time “Apprentice” contestant.
“He’s changed the game,” Manigault told TheWrap. Despite having gotten tangled in one controversy after another that might have felled most traditional candidates, Trump continues to soar in the polls. “This is such a new space for people. I don’t think the other candidates understand it.”
Manigault believes the reason Trump is smoking the competition is because he’s more than just another politician, reaching voters in ways that most candidates can’t.
“Trump gets the tabloids, he gets People magazine, he gets Politico and The Hill. He gets all this press across the media and they don’t know how to deal with him,” Manigault said.
“Trump has been in the living rooms of homes since 2004. People have been rooting for him. They want to see him win, bought his books, his ties and colognes at Macy’s,” she said. “These people feel like they have an intimate relationship with him and they feel like they owe it to Trump to back him on all these people who are attacking him and bullying him.”
If Trump’s GOP rivals want a fighting chance at the presidency, Manigault says, they should hire advisers who understand the entertainment world as well as the political arena.
“This is no longer a traditional primary,” she said. “The other campaigns don’t understand celebrity. They need to study races with celebrities like the Arnold Schwarzenegger race, the Jesse Ventura race, Sonny Bono, Ronald Reagan.”
Schwarzenegger and Ventura won gubernatorial elections in California and Minnesota; Bono served nearly two terms in the U.S. Congress from California; and Reagan served as governor of California and then president.
Manigault, a longtime Hillary Clinton supporter, recently leaped to the defense of Trump, shooting down Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly’s accusations of sexism during last Thursday’s debate.
Manigault, who appeared in 75 episodes of “Apprentice” or “Celebrity Apprentice,” also had some tips for reporters and staffers on how to deal with Trump on a daily basis.
“Don’t call his followers crazies. That would be my first bit of advice,” Manigualt said, referring to comments made by Arizona Sen. John McCain last month. “Voters should have the right to support whomever they want. Who are you to label people crazy?”
And while Trump can seem a lithe rough around the edges, she recommends that reporters approach him gently. “He’s very intuitive to your intentions of whether to not you’re there to be fair or not,” she said. “He has no tolerance for people who do not give him a fair shot. Don’t think you’re going to come and trap him or trick him. You’ve got to shoot straight.”
Manigualt, who has long voiced her support for Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, hedged on whether she’s switch her vote to Trump if he should with the GOP nomination.
“I’m a registered Democrat so that would present a big challenge for me,” she said. “I’m eager to hear and see what Donald Trump’s political platform will be and where he stands on issues that are important to me. Yes, he’s my friend, but if he doesn’t have a very clear way of dealing with ‘Black Lives Matter,’ criminal justice reform, issues with the police and my community… then, heck no!”
And while Trump’s campaign may be looking for staffers — top political adviser Roger Stone left on Saturday after either quitting or getting the ax, depending on whom you believe — Manigault said she has no plans to come aboard.
“I don’t really like to deal with hypotheticals,” she said. “There are many different ways of supporting a Donald Trump candidacy without having to go on the payroll”