Anthony Scaramucci thinks he would have stopped Donald Trump's attacks on the press

Anthony Scaramucci speaks with Salon about his new book and why Trump should move away from the far right

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 28, 2018 2:00PM (EDT)

Anthony Scaramucci (Getty/Mike Coppola)
Anthony Scaramucci (Getty/Mike Coppola)

It's interesting to speculate, on a "What if?" kind of level, how the last fifteen months of American history would have been different if Anthony Scaramucci had remained in his position as White House Director of Communications.

While this isn't the topic of Scaramucci's new book "Trump: The Blue Collar President," the basic difference between Scaramucci's pragmatic, middle-of-the-road approach to government and the far right politics being currently practiced from the White House could not be clearer. During our conversation, Scaramucci said that he disagrees with President Donald Trump's administration on issues like transgender rights, wishes they would open up more to liberal media outlets that don't share their views and believes that, in general, the president needs to focus more on protecting minorities and other oppressed groups. When he writes about Trump's appeal to blue collar voters in his book, Scaramucci insists that racism should not be viewed as the main factor, but rather believes economic issues also played a major role.

Is he right? Frankly, I'm not sure. As many of my colleagues have pointed out, there is considerable circumstantial and statistical evidence suggesting that latent bigotry toward non-white, non-cis and non-Christian groups played a considerable role in why many voters were drawn to Trump. Having said that, the easiest way to test that theory would have been to have Trump's advisers attempt to steer him away from the white nationalist, far right crowd and ground him in genuine economic populism. It may not have worked, but it at least would have done America the service of demonstrating whether there was any truth to the supposition that a vote for Trump wasn't automatically a vote for hate.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

I appreciate you busting my balls a little bit before the official recording began. I may mention that in my article.

Of course. How could you not mention that? I call in, I say, "Hey, is this is the Trump Victory Headquarters, Trump 2020?" I mean come on!

And I just thought, "Uh-oh, some wires got crossed somewhere."

It's a good test to make sure you have sense of humor Matthew. We have jobs we do, so that's good.

Oh, absolutely, I do. That actually brings me nicely to the first question I have, which is why are you willing to speak to a liberal outlet like Salon which has been a forefront among Trump's critics within the internet-based news media? What would convince Trump hypothetically to speak to an outlet like Salon or maybe even Salon itself?

First of all, I think the president is at his best when he's doing stuff like that, and so my recommendation to him would be to go to Salon, and everywhere, and even the Daily Caller. You pick the place. They should be everywhere. If you ever get a chance, you can download my communications plan. It's on the internet. Somebody leaked it. I always thought that we needed to be in the customer service business, and maybe outreach to the press as opposed to the Steve Bannon "Let's to declare a war on media" sort of thing.

For me, I've been blasted by Salon. I've been memed by Salon. It has raked me over the coals, but I think that there is a message in that book that your readers would at least appreciate, and it is if you want to be Trump … and you guys, obviously, have preached against him. If you want to beat him, I think, there's a lot of observational facts inside the book of how he basically hijacked the core constituency of the Democratic Party, the blue-collar families, and he moved them over to his column. How did he do that successfully? And I try to write a relatable book. I think I have an interesting voice to express that to people because I grow in blue-collar family.

I've lived the arc of the American dream thankfully, had some level of success in this wonderful country, but my family story is the classic immigrant story where nobody went to college. Everybody worked with their hands and people started out as hourly workers. For me, I'm trying to explain why my cousin who works in auto glass votes for and supports Trump, or my cousin Bobby, who's clamming out on Long Island Sound for the less 35 years and also didn't go to college, voted for and supports Trump.

It's interesting that you say this because one of the other themes of your book, you described Trump as being ideologically flexible. You say that when he isn't feeling like he needs to fight or when he isn't feeling like he is on the defensive, he can actually be open-minded to points of view that could surprise people. What do you think liberals could do to reach out to him to on issues that they consider important?

Well, I mean look, I mean I have always said that the president seems to be relatively cool/indifferent on a lot of the social issues. Ronald Reagan said he was pro-life, and Donald Trump is expressing the fact that he is pro-life, but I think they share one thing in common: they're both political pragmatist, where they recognize that the next generation of Americans have already decided that the women have the right to choose as related to their own bodies and that people have the right to get married.

I mean one of the weird things about me, and I think you may have picked it up in the book, is that I'm very socially liberal. I worked on the gay marriage initiative here in New York. I worked with Rob Reiner and Chad Griffin on the gay marriage initiative nationally, and like Ted Olson who represented with David Boies the court case before the Supreme Court, Ted Olson being a Republican, I'm a Republican for marriage equality. I'm also Republican that believes in the right to choose. So to me, I think, that there is flexibility there for the president. Again, that's my opinion. He's obviously preaching to a core base, as Ronald Reagan once did, but I think the reality of the situation is that they're way more flexible than the way they're talking to the public.

Speaking of the social issues, do you have any thoughts on the Trump administration's recent announcement regarding possibly redefining gender in a way that could essentially negate transgender identities and experiences?

I think that would be a very, very big mistake. Again, the good news is, it hasn't happened yet. It could be that they're floating a trial balloon related to that to see what the reaction is, or it could be that they're floating that balloon right now to galvanize their base to bring out more Republican voters. I don't know. But I think that would a very big mistake.

I think one of the responsibilities of a majority government is to protect minorities in the society. I'm not transgender, but if somebody I loved was transgender, I would want them to have the same rights and feel the same level of comfort and equal protection under the law as anybody else in the society. I would be somebody that would be outspoken about that, and I would be against that.

It's interesting because in your book, and just in general, you talk about this connection that Trump has with blue-collar workers, and yet his own biography couldn't be any more different from that of someone who is blue-collar. Do you think that there is a genuine empathy that Trump feels for people from those backgrounds?

We can describe it any way we want. I'm not inside his brain so I can't tell whether he is empathetic or not. I can only tell you what I experience on the campaign trail, and I can only tell you what I experience with my personal family. They've galvanized behind him because they think he is a champion for their causes. Now some people on the left say, "Well, they're just doing that because there's a cultural war and lot of these people are racial profilers or they're white nationalists, and they sort of hate the same groups and that's why they're galvanizing around Trump." I don't think that's a fair characterization.

That's not what I saw on 26 or 27 campaign stops. What I saw was in a generation we went from aspirational working class families, like the one I grew up in, to desperational working class families. What I saw is a decline in wages causing some level of economic asphyxiation for a very large group of people. And so Trump being out there, going into those areas, explaining the policies that he's going to put in place, and then executing on some of those policies. I mean it's not me saying, it's just go look at "The Wall Street Journal."

"The Wall Street Journal" reported two Saturdays ago that wages for the bottom 10% of the society are up about 5½ in the last 18 months. One of the things he doesn't get credit for is that his policies have helped to cut the slack in the labor marketing. By reducing illegal immigration, he's actually had the positive side effect of improving the African-American and Hispanic-American unemployment numbers.

I'm not in love with the bellicosity of his rhetoric. I'm not in love with some of the incendiary tweets. I certainly think it's inappropriate for the president of the United States to call anybody horse-face on Twitter, even if they are in a fight and even if they were together, or they weren't together or whatever it was. It doesn't matter. Doing that is going to create a headwind for his approval rating. A lot of the stuff that I hear that's negative about him, is personality driven and it's less policy related.

How much of that do you think is the influence of Steve Bannon or people like Steve Bannon?

I think in the early part of this thing, I think Steve was right in there championing this war with the media, championing this ethnocentric nonsense, championing this "White Nationalism." He was always leaking on people and trying to divide the White House between globalist and nationalist, and I think it had a very bad impact on the situations.

The other thing that he was trying to do is he was trying to tell people that he was the main responsible agent for Trump's victory. It's bunch of nonsense. He didn't enter the campaign until Trump had already beaten almost every single person in the Republican Party. It was after the nomination he entered the campaign in August. Trump is well on his way to executing his strategy with or without Bannon.

That's what actually got me in trouble. If you go listen to the tape, The New Yorker guy is like kissing my butt and he is basically saying, "Oh, we'd love to do a profile with you here at the New Yorker," and I'm like, "I don't need that. I'm not Steve Bannon where I'm trying to promote myself," and then I said what you would say when you're from Long Islands. I said I'm not Steve Bannon. I'm not blankety blank, blank, blank." You follow what I'm saying? If I knew that I've been recorded, I obviously wouldn't have said that, but I said it, so I own it, got fired for it, moving on.

Okay. I would like to segue to Trump's favorite president, Andrew Jackson. There are two quotes I'd like to read you from Jackson himself. One of them kept coming to my mind as I read your book, and I'm curious how you think Trump would feel about this quote. This is when Andrew Jackson vetoed the renewal of the national bank's chartered in 1832. He said, "There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does it rains, shower favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and poor, it would be an unqualified blessing." Now what do you, Scaramucci, think of that quote, and how do think Trump would react to that quote?

I think that quote has relevance for today. I think ironically Jackson made a mistake by repealing the central bank, because what ended up happening is it caused way more boom and bust cycles and it required the introduction of the Federal Reserve in 1913. It's just interesting that he came up with the quote like that, which is a terrific quote and a timeless quote, but he attached it to making the wrong decision about something. That's all hindsight now.

I would say specifically as it relates to Trump, President Trump, I would say that he has got to get closer to that mark, closer to that quote, if he wants to go into the 50% plus zone on his approval ratings. That's the point I was making earlier that responsible government protects minorities, whether they voted for them or didn't vote for them. The equal protection clause in the constitution requires a responsible government to protect minorities. I think that's basically the gist of that quote.

That was the "Yin" Andrew Jackson quote. Now I'm going to read you a "Yang" Andrew Jackson quote. This was something he wrote to defend the Indian Removal Act of 1830. I feel although Trump has never said anything like this about Native Americans, you can probably see where I'm going with it once it read it to you.

He wrote about Native Americans, "That those tribes cannot exist surrounded by our settlements and in continual contact with our citizens is certain. They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement, which are essential to any favorable change in their condition." When I read that quote I immediately thought of the caravan of Central American migrants that are coming towards the US-Mexico border. I'm thinking about how many people of color, many Muslims, feel oppressed since Trump took office, and I'm curious what your thoughts are?

Again, like I said, I mean here is the interesting thing about my book, and my relationship with the president and me specifically, I don't have to like every aspect of the president to still like him. I think it's dangerous in our society now where we have these like litmus tests. It's like, "Okay, well, you like Trump, you're all in on 150% of everything about? If you don't like Trump, if he does something great, we have to wail on him and say that that's a terrible thing, because now we have this litmus test. We have the 100% hate Trump, or 100% love Trump."

For me, I think he would be doing so much better if he shaved off the sharp points in his personality style, and he was more embracing, he was more of the gregarious person of the late 1990s or early 2000s, and took a more of a well-rounded approach to all of the different people and all of these different people's circumstances.

I do think it's there is a distinguishment, if I may, between people that are outside the United States and in a caravan, and people that are inside the United States, in terms of what the right should be. The people who are seeking asylum for political purposes, that are legitimate, now they should have a voice and they should have a hearing as to whether or not we should be accepting them into the country. If they're entering the country illegally in direct violation of laws that are put on the books and records by Democratic-elected leaders, Republican-elected leaders, and signed by Republican and Democrat presidents, I think we should enforce those laws. What happens is if you don't enforce the laws and you allow for waves of illegal immigration, it upsets the tax balance, it upsets the society.

Milton Friedman had a great line about this; "Countries that have welfare states, which the United States certainly does, you need to protect your border; otherwise, you have, market forces being what they are, it'll dictate many unnatural border crossing." So me, people inside the United States, if you are Muslim feeling oppressed inside the United States, then we have to figure out what's going on inside the administration to make those people feel less so. But as it relates to people outside the United States, they have to follow the laws that have been put on the books and records to come into the country.

It's very hard to tell because of the society we live in now. The way the news gets delivered, it screeches into you from the right or screeches into you from the left. It's very hard to tell what the factual dynamics are of that caravan. If it's politically motivated and sponsored by George Soros, or if this is all peace-loving people that are seeking political asylum because they're great libertarians and champions of freedom. Depending on whose channel you turn on, you're getting two different narratives. You know what I mean? I'm just not close enough to know which one is factually accurate.

I think you're raising an interesting point there about different narratives, because as I see it one of the biggest obstacles to creating real bipartisan dialogue is that there are two different narratives. One side believes one story, and the other believes a story that is in many ways incompatible. It sounds like you think there should be some attempts to reconcile those stories or at least build bridges, but practically how does one achieve that?

I mean that's the age old question. For me, I've always felt that … look, I'm not a politician. I think I demonstrated that I'm incapable of being one, and so my fizzling out really came from just being too rank honest about the situation, and probably too graphically honest about the situation, so that's unacceptable to people. They would prefer the lies and the spinning and all the nonsense that goes on inside of Washington, and so I get all that. I always felt that the most successful politicians would take an adage from what Harry Truman said about himself. He said, "Listen, I am a lobbyist, and it's my job to represent all Americans, whether they voted for me or they didn't," and that's the role of the president.

I would like to see more of that and less of the identity politics. Now, to be fair to the president, you would probably say, "Well, it happens on both sides, and so I'm just responding to the way they're acting." Then they would say, "Well, we're responding to the way he's acting." Then I would say, "Okay, why don't we both dial it up back and let's focus less on what's left and right about the situation or left and right policy, and focus more on right or wrong policy."

By the way, you know and I know, if people actually did that in government, the poll ratings would go up, but the reason why they don't do that is that they figured out a way to disenfranchise the middle roadsters, so the middle roadsters are like, "Okay, this sucks. I'm disaffecting from the system. Not going to vote." The people on the hard left vote, and the people on the hard right vote, and that's perfect for the system because that's how these guys, if you will, can maintain their power base for 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years.

It would be better for our society frankly, we had mandatory vote because if the Republicans goes nuts and say, "Oh, there's too many Democrats, they would overrun us," but you know what, then switch your policies, okay? There is a lot of people that are Democrats, they don't like certain Democratic policies. There is a lot of people that are Republicans, they don't like certain Republican policies, so if we force mandatory voting, you'd force this duopoly, this very powerful duopoly that's corrupt, to re-morph themselves, if you will, and step into the middle and come up with better ideas for America.

Okay. I have two final questions for you. The first is are you aware of whether Trump himself, or other people in the Trump administration, are going to keep up with your book, and are going to essentially be curious about the thoughts that you express in your book regarding Trump, many of which is relevant to what he is experiencing in his presidency right now?

I don't know. I hope so, but I don't know. I mean, I'm not one of these guys that pretends to be that close to the president... I left with fairly good rapport. He's got a very hard job. I'm not happy with the way I got fired. I think I've been pretty articulate about that. I don't think you fire a guy like me, after all the work I did for you. By the way, no problem being fired. I don't think you need to explode me from the White House like that and create an unnecessary spectacle. Having said that, I'm better for it.

Since you read the book, I've wrote a whole chapter on what you have to do on the 12th day when things are not going the way you planned, how you have to adjust your attitude and adapt your personality. But for me, I don't care. I'm a pretty straight up person and so if they read it and like it, that's terrific. If they read it and dislike it, I could care less. I mean I'm happy to let the book, and the words that I wrote in the book, stand for themselves. Whoever likes it, likes it. Whoever doesn't, doesn't.

Okay. My final question it, if you had been in your office through the present moment, which means you would've been there for over a year, what major things would you have done differently in terms of Trump's communications?

The right question is, how long do you think you could have lasted implementing your plans? The answer is that would have been up to the president. If the president liked my ideas of opening up to places like Salon, opening up like to places like CNN. Remember my press conference was 40 minutes, but I very purposefully looked for CNN. Sean Spicer, having called on them for six weeks. I went to go look for them to send an olive branch, and so my saying would have been "We're open for business."

I believe in the 1st Amendment. I believe that people are that are in power have to be held accountable, because power is corrupt. That's what our founders felt. Opening up the press box, opening the lights, turning the cameras back on, and I would have told the president, "You're a television star. You've been 15 years in a very highly rated television show. There's people out there that don't like you, but you should go and meet with them." Even if he says, well, they're not going to give me a fair shake, so what?

We're in a society now where the society is fully transparent. People can read through the fakery that's in a society. Someone goes on a left-leaning site, they can see some level of disingenuousness, same way that they can on a right-leaning site.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Anthony Scaramucci Donald Trump Racial Minorities Transgender Rights