Evolutionary biology is dragooned into the political culture these days for all sorts of bad ends. But if we’re candid with ourselves we will grant that one place where it provides a highly instructive analog is in explaining how Trump intrusion into the political ecosystem has created a niche opening for operators like Michael Avenatti and Omarosa Manigault-Newman.
The idea that Michael Avenatti could be the Democrats presidential nominee in 2020 is inane and ridiculous. But I don’t discount the cachet he holds for many Democrats. Democrats have seen Trump chew through political opponents and defy political gravity for three years straight. They want someone who can stop that. Avenatti, playing a fairly weak hand, has managed to embarrass the President day after day for months. He outmaneuvers him. He’s inflicted immense damage on him. It remains unclear whether Avenatti pushed forward the firestorm that engulfed Michael Cohen and then spread to the President or simply brought into the open something that was already afoot but out of view. Regardless, the punches have been fast and relentless. They connected again and again.
You see something similar with Omarosa, even though she is a far, far less credible and creditable figure. She now seems likely to dribble out new tapes for days or weeks. First Kelly. Then Trump. Now, reportedly, Ivanka and Jared. The tape of Trump she released today was like kryptonite. Because it shows something far more damaging for Trump than being a racist or an idiot or a liar. It shows him as a comical wuss. He pretends he didn’t know she was being fired. He didn’t support it. In his own tape recorded words he shows he doesn’t have the guts to stand up or stand behind what happened. He looks like a coward and a liar and a fool. How many more of these tapes does she have? Who knows? Keeping us guessing is part of the routine.
The fact that Manigault is herself a con-artist and a grifter barely matters since her tapes speak for themselves. Her lack of character is also hardly a defense since her absurd behavior is as much an indictment of Trump, who hired her, as it is of her. She happily served as the President’s racism heat-shield through the Charlottesville disgrace and much else. Now she accuses him of being a racist and a misogynist. That is no doubt true. But it is a bold and audacious and shameless claim coming from her since it is no more clear today than it was when she happily worked for him. But no matter. None of her nonsense or hypocrisy slows her down because she doesn’t follow rules. She moves fast and inflicts what damage she can. Her lack of scruples and credibility – all but universally conceded – is almost an advantage inasmuch as it takes what are in her universe irrelevant factors off the table. It simplifies things, eliminates distractions.
I explored some of these possibilities with Trump himself back in August 2015, considering analogies to military innovations in battlefield mobility and the so-called OODA Loops of military theorist John Boyd to understand Trump’s ability to command media, escape damage and tear apart opponents. This was half tongue-in-cheek but half not. They are more applicable to Trump’s command of media and political cycles than you might think. Today, much as Trump did in the 2015/2016 political cycle, these new contenders combine speed with either less conventional or less scrupulous gambits, often both, to get inside the decision-making process of their adversaries, in this case Trump and his toadies.
Avenatti and Manigault both have the adaptive skills of the Trump Era. They employ versions of his tactics. They have openings because of the scorched earth he has left in his wake.