The Memo: Trump's ‘dog’ attack fuels an already hot debate

The Memo: Trump's ‘dog’ attack fuels an already hot debate
© Getty Images

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE called former White House aide Omarosa Manigault NewmanOmarosa Onee Manigault NewmanFeehery: Are you (October) surprised? Juan Williams: Trump's war on civil rights Sales of political books up 25 percent in 2018: report MORE “that dog” on Twitter on Tuesday morning, intensifying a debate about his combative and often crude language.

Critics saw the tweet as racially charged given that Manigault Newman — a former contestant on NBC’s “The Apprentice” who has just published a deeply critical book about the president — was one of the few prominent African-Americans working in the White House.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump’s defenders, including White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have pushed back vigorously against that charge.

During Tuesday’s media briefing, Sanders said that Trump was “equal opportunity” in his willingness to launch fiery attacks on virtually anyone, regardless of race or gender.

Others noted that he had used similar imagery about white adversaries, including several conservatives. In the past, he has described at least two conservative commentators — broadcaster Glenn Beck and radio host Erick Erickson — as having been “fired like a dog.”

But the broader issue is whether the president hurts or helps himself by his responses. Even some supporters acknowledge that his tactics when attacked can be counterproductive.

“I think the president, although justified in doing this, pays a political price in doing it,” said Brad Blakeman, who served on the senior staff of the George W. Bush administration and is generally supportive of Trump.

Referring to Manigault Newman, Blakeman added that Trump is “helping her sell books. I would ignore her completely. She is hoping for a fight, because then she gets on the news and gets to hawk her book.”

The controversy over Manigault Newman’s book, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” recalls a similar media firestorm over Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” back in January.

In that case, Trump gave the book added impetus — and helped its sales — by launching an attack on former chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who was one of Wolff’s main sources. Trump referred to “Sloppy Steve” as having “lost his mind.”

Manigault Newman has drawn on her own history as a reality TV star to play the media game deftly. She has parceled out new accusations and new snippets of audio recordings to keep herself in the headlines.

In an interview with Katy Tur on MSNBC on Tuesday, she alleged — without providing evidence — that Trump had known in advance about WikiLeaks’ plan to release hacked emails from Democrats during the 2016 campaign.

Manigault-Newman’s U-turn from her previously vigorous support of Trump has earned her the enmity of White House staff and Trump loyalists.

A former White House official told The Hill that at one point, “she was one of his most visible African-American surrogates, and certainly I think the president felt that it was important to have someone like that in the higher ranks of the administration. And then it turned out she was an absolute terrorist who brought nothing constructive to the table.”

During the Tuesday media briefing, Sanders told reporters that the president’s tweets about Manigault Newman had “nothing to do with race and everything to do with the president calling out someone’s lack of integrity.”

Regardless, Republican sources emphasize there is another, broader picture.

The midterm elections are now less than three months away, and GOP candidates in competitive races would much prefer to be talking about the economy than about the president’s choice of words about a former aide.

GOP strategist Dan Judy said that the problem was “not even so much these specific comments as the fact that this is his usual M.O. — to distract from the issues they want to be running on.”

In addition to the economy, Judy cited deregulation, conservative judicial appointments and successes in the battle against ISIS.

“They don’t want to be talking about palace intrigue or this pointless blather,” Judy added. “It doesn’t help candidates.”

Republican candidates have long grappled with a complicated electoral calculus, however. If they back up Trump in every one of his controversies, they risk repelling independent voters. If they break from him, they may depress the conservative turnout they need to win.

Judy suggested that one option was simply to go quiet on some of the more tabloid-flavored Trump furors.

“What you will see our candidates doing is not taking the bait on every little thing,” he said. “To the extent that they don’t take the bait, that will allow them to quieten some of this noise.”

In the end some conservatives are simply hoping that voters will not focus on the Omarosa storm, given that it comes at the height of summer.

Doug Heye, a former communications director of the Republican National Committee, noted that he had been traveling in Oregon and Washington state as the Omarosa firestorm first erupted last week.

“Politics was not the dominant conversation in those communities, and it is easy to forget that,” Heye said, “They are not talking about the outrage du jour with the same intensity that folks in Washington or New York do.”

That may be the GOP’s best hope, since no one believes Trump is going to change.

“He lives for this stuff,” Judy said.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.