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Donald Trump's TV protégé, Omarosa, explains his political success

Television personality Omarosa Manigault arrives at the second annual Coach Woodson Las Vegas Invitational pairings party at the Lavo Restaurant & Nightclub at the Palazzo Las Vegas on July 12, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Television personality Omarosa Manigault arrives at the second annual Coach Woodson Las Vegas Invitational pairings party at the Lavo Restaurant & Nightclub at the Palazzo Las Vegas on July 12, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

Donald Trump is just getting started. Sure, there's a ceiling for the billionaire showman with a yen for celebrity feuds. But just wait until he adapts to the political stage and begins rolling out specific policies designed to broaden his appeal. Then he could actually win the Republican primary.

That's the view of Omarosa Manigault, the prototype villain from Trump's early reality TV vehicle The Apprentice. I met her on the set of MSNBC's Up With Steve Kornacki last weekend, and I decided to ask for an interview because, well, why not talk to Omarosa about Donald Trump's presidential campaign?

It's like living in a parallel universe, but so is waking up and seeing Donald Trump atop the polls. So, with those caveats, in mind, here's how Omarosa looks at The Donald and his prospects of winning the Republican nomination.

1) This is a bright guy who knows how to adapt to his environment

"One of the most interesting things about Donald Trump is how incredibly smart he is and how he kind of learns as he goes. You can see he's making modifications to his style as he goes through this thing," she said.

Modifications? Fox's Megyn Kelly asked him about calling women "fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals" during last week's Republican presidential primary.

Trump's response: "Only Rosie O'Donnell."

So how is he adapting?

"I see the modifications because even those he’s pointing things out, he’s not going in like he could," Omarosa said. "It doesn’t seem like it, but he’s showing a great deal of restraint."

He sure didn't seem like he was showing restraint — or any respect for women — in his attacks on Kelly. If it was a man, Omarosa, said, "he would have gone after that moderator and called him a jerk and a pinhead."

2) He's playing into a celebrity-feud culture that helped build his brand

"In the entertainment field, celebrity feuds are kind of par for the course. It is in the very fabric of the entertainment industry. Celebrities fight all the time," Omarosa said. "He's been operating in an entertainment space, and celebrity feuds are par for the course."

That may help explain Trump's bizarre, stalker-like harassment of Kelly in television interviews and on Twitter after the GOP debate. And it certainly explains why he tried to frame a longer history of misogyny as an attack only on a celebrity with the standing to defend herself.

"The O’Donnell moment was truly intended to be funny," Omarosa said. "I like that he is authentic, and I think that that is what people are kind of tapping into and attracted to – it’s his authenticity."

3) Yes, it's an act, but that's Donald Trump

While Trump is all persona in the presidential race, he's no different in any other arena, Omarosa said.

"Donald Trump has always been a showman; from the early '80s you could see this performer on a stage called New York. That's in the DNA of who Donald Trump is, the very colorful way he describes his properties, and in his business dealings," she said. "That's all Donald all day. I don't that that's not authentic. I think that's required. When you're selling a brand like Trump, you've got to be larger than life."

4) Watch out when Trump starts putting together a platform

So far, Trump's been sailing on personality alone. Eventually, Omarosa predicts, he'll invest some of his fortune in hiring high-end policy minds and put together a platform that can expand his base.

"Once he gets his policy team together and he hones his message, people will stop questioning whether or not he’s serious," she said. "People will start to see him as a real contender."

Of course, that will also give his opponents new lines of attack against him in the GOP primary. Right now they're largely going after him personally and on things he's said about policy in the distant past, when he wasn't a candidate for office. He'll have to find a way to keep his momentum going, Omarosa said.

5) So can he win the Republican nomination?

"My answer to you is yes, yes, yes," she said. "He's got swag, he's connected to young people. He's connected to pop culture. He's got that social media thing down."

But the general election is a much taller order. Omarosa, a former Clinton White House aide, said she's a Hillary Clinton supporter. Clinton's had years to fashion her policy and messaging, and she's raised a lot of campaign money.

"Donald Trump is hot as fish grease right now. He’s hot, but maintaining that heat is difficult. It is very difficult," she said. "A fireworks show is great, but once the fireworks stop and the smoke clears, what then?"

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