Two days after the country chose Donald Trump to be president, the GOP’s senior adviser to the chairman presided over a conference call for a group of black Republicans.
The message from Elroy Sailor was clear: Black conservatives were back. Then the senior adviser to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Sailor hurried excitedly through the basics of how they should navigate the transition. Where to be for meetings. How to apply for jobs. And he explained how, after eight long years in the wilderness, it was time to turn up and celebrate.
“Campaigning is actually easy, but governing is hard,” he said — before being interrupted. There was a message from the president-elect that couldn’t wait.
“Hey, Omarosa,” said Sailor, ceding the floor. “How are you?” Omarosa Manigault — gracious on the call, according to two people close to her — told black Republican leaders that the president-elect appreciated what black Republicans had done to help him win. Manigault said the president-elect had committed to creating the “most diverse” staff.
Sailor and Manigault hadn’t spoken in a while. Three black Republican sources familiar with the Trump campaign’s black outreach efforts and the RNC’s own program, which was a longstanding project, described the relationship as doomed from the start. Manigault was privately frustrated with what she believed to be the RNC’s inability to reach black voters, and contended that any success the campaign had was theirs, not the party’s. She bristled at the idea of an obligation to black Republicans who she believed never took Trump seriously. Little during the campaign animated Manigault more than her desire to bring Trump to Howard University, a prestigious historically black university in the heart of Washington, D.C. When the plan fizzled amid a lack of interest and anti-Trump activism, she believed the Republicans held it up. “After that,” a source close to her said, “it was a wrap.”
So when the bookish, bespectacled operative, one of the most respected black Republicans in the country, deferred to Manigault, a personally affable longtime Trump protégé catapulted into fame in the mid-2000s, it seemed to symbolize a new era: that black conservatives would likely be outsiders in a Republican administration.
Trump’s advisers brag that they envision more black, working-class voters supporting the president in 2020 on the strength of the economy (how race, criminal justice, and other issues factor into that vision remain to be seen). Even if the seemingly unlikely does happen, though, black conservatives have to wonder: Will that future, the thing they’ve been working toward for a long time, include them?
All of this — the people Trump already has around him, his deep trust of his own people, and their distrust of black Republicans — is limiting the black conservatives’ plan to be a part of Trump’s movement and to grow their own.
“It’s insulting to black Republicans that someone like Donald Trump would get people off the street [to associate with],” said Donald Scoggins, a longtime Republican activist who likes to say his conservative bona fides go back to volunteering for Eisenhower. “These jackleg ministers don’t have any standing in the Republican Party. These are folks Trump has gotten to say, ‘We spoke to the black Republicans.’”
Black conservatives are hesitant to talk specifically about Manigault — who declined an interview for this story — or about how the changes in Washington affect them. Few endorsed Trump publicly during the campaign, with many choosing to stay out of the race or keep quiet for fear of reprisal — though some did support the Republican nominee.
Now that Trump’s president, black Republicans hope to put their stamp on policy, fixing black communities by implementing long-championed conservative policies on issues like school choice, localized economic empowerment, and criminal justice. A plan to do this during a retreat at the Gloucester Institute in Central Virginia was postponed, but when it’s complete, it will be sent to Manigault. She also oversaw a convening of HBCU presidents, who participated in a listening session with Vice President Mike Pence, capped by a quick visit with Trump in the Oval Office.
The reality is that if you are black, or concerned with issues affecting black America, with black politics, policy, or culture, Manigault is the person standing between you and the president of the United States.
Trump, in fact, said it himself. Last month at the White House’s African-American listening session, he listened to one person after another speak about their priorities. According to a source in the room, Trump twice asked people to follow up with Manigault. At one juncture, he pointed his thumbs outward — one at Trump loyalist Lynne Patton, and the other at Manigault. “You talk to them,” he said.
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SOURCE: Darren Sands