“They rolled me in margarita salt”: Anthony Scaramucci on surviving the Trump White House

Legendary former White House aide says ego and pride led him to Trump, explains why ex-president is a dire threat

Published May 18, 2024 9:00AM (EDT)

Anthony Scaramucci (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Anthony Scaramucci (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Anthony Scaramucci — or “The Mooch” to his friends, as well as to late-night comics — is many things. A successful investor, a famously short-lived White House communications director for Donald Trump, a Harvard Law graduate, a target of “Saturday Night Live” mockery and more. Now we can add one more item to the list: A life coach, who says he can help you remain resilient in the face of challenges.

That's the theme of Scaramucci’s new book, “From Wall Street to the White House and Back: The Scaramucci Guide to Unbreakable Resilience.” I spoke with the Mooch for a “Salon Talks” conversation that went way beyond the pages of his book into his burning passion to ensure that Donald Trump — both his former boss and his former friend — never returns to the White House.

Scaramucci joked (sort of) that “Trump is as if Huey Long married Charles Lindbergh — the two fathers of the America First movement — had a baby and named him Donald Trump. And then they let Roy Cohn raise the guy.” The Mooch augmented that non-endorsement by noting that Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence,  along with “40-plus people” who formerly worked for Trump have refused to support him in 2024. That, Scaramucci said, should “express to you what he’s like and the threat he is to the institutions of democracy.” Scaramucci urged his fellow Republicans to be a “patriot first [and] partisan second,” meaning that it's time to put the future of our republic before the fortunes of this year's GOP nominee. 

Getting back to his fun and informative new book, Scaramucci candidly discussed his unceremonious firing after just 11 days in the Trump White House. The media, he said, and especially the late-night comedy shows, “skinned me alive. They rolled me in margarita salt.” But that experience, he believes, made Scaramucci stronger and more resilient. Other people, he said, can follow his example to bounce back time and time again from life’s setbacks, and even from abject failure. We'll all need thick skins to endure what we expect Trump will throw at us between now and Election Day.

Watch my "Salon Talks" with Scaramucci here on YouTube or read a transcript of our interview below, edited for clarity and length.

You've basically written a self-help book! It’s a touchstone on life that you share to help people.

It’s a self-evaluation, and I tried to put it down in a way where somebody could pick up the book. I didn't want to write a chapter book because we're in the age of low attention spans. I said, "All right, so we're going to put 25 lessons." 

You could open up the book at any point and look through it. It's a plane read. My job here is, if you're going to take a flight somewhere, you could read this. By the time you land you'll be done with the book and there'll be some things in there. I got blasted out of the White House after 11 days. It was unceremonious. They skinned me alive. They rolled me in margarita salt. They mocked me on "Saturday Night Live." They derided me on every late-night comedy show.

Bill Hader played you with the big pinky ring.

Yeah, the disaster I went through. Bill Hader said I was human cocaine … the SOB! But anyway, how do you go from an experience like that to building yourself back up, ignoring some of the noise and the chin music and staying in the game, staying resilient and not caring? It's about staying in there and not giving up under any and all circumstances.

The New York Post did an article about you with a cartoon of the SS Mooch. You’re the captain of the boat and it's going down.


I'm sure it impacted you — we’re all human beings. But you did something with it. Share a little bit because I think that's important.

Well, so after the White House, I made a very large investment in cryptocurrencies. It did not go well. I had teamed up with Sam Bankman-Fried, who, unfortunately, is serving time in jail now for fraud. I mean, it's a sad, sordid story there. So my Bitcoin investments, which peaked at $69,000 in November of 2021, were down to $17,000 by February of 2023.

"They skinned me alive. They rolled me in margarita salt. They mocked me on 'Saturday Night Live.' They derided me on every late-night comedy show."

The New York Post wrote a financial obituary for me. They had me in the SS Mooch, which was a rinky-dink rowboat. And I was going down. I mean, it was an unmitigated disaster. I took the picture and I enlarged it and I put it up in my office and then I made T-shirts. And then the wise guys in my office, they made a bobblehead of me sinking in the Bitcoin boat. But I said to my guys, "We're either going out of business — these guys are right, we're going out of business — or they called the bottom. Only time will tell whether they're right or if we're right." So far it's going well, but who the hell knows? We never know.

What impressed me is that you didn't run away from it. You didn't hide the copies from people in your office. You put it up there and that shows strength.

Well, yes. It shows that you got to go into things. You got to go into your weaknesses. You remember Eminem's movie “8 Mile,” and the rap-off? OK, you get up there, they're going to rap each other off and they're supposed to deride and blast each other. Well, he started out with everything that was wrong with himself and he told the whole song to music, how terrible he was. And then he handed the microphone to his opponent and he froze the guy. 

Sometimes someone will, say, make fun of my height. I’ll say, but by the way, at my height, at this altitude, there's way more oxygen. You tall people have much thinner air up there. And the last time I checked, I can see the glass from this angle and the glass always looks full. I'm too short to see the glass anything other than half-full. My point is, you got to own who you are and you don't have to be bashful or ashamed of anything about who you are and what you represent.

How does your Italian heritage impact you and fuel you?

Well, I think it's a big help. Your mother loved you?

Sure, of course. She's a Sicilian.

I know she loved you. I could just tell by your personality. I could tell by the way you move your head. I could tell by the way you laugh. Your mother loved you. So when your mother loves you, you're more confident and you're more secure. And so yeah, my grandmother and my mother raised me. They love me, but they also told me to be a good boy. They told me, "You got to be nice other people. You can't think too full of yourself." You know what I mean?

That's interesting. In my family, my dad's Palestinian. He was an immigrant and he would say, "Work really hard and you'll get things." My mom would say, "No, you have to go after what you want and go take it. No one's going to say, 'Hey, you're a nice boy. Here's what you want.'" So I'm an amalgam of that. I work really hard and I go after what I want.

I love it. Can I tell a quick story? This is a real lesson.

Of course. This is what Salon's about, Anthony.

OK, so I was so insecure when I left Goldman Sachs, I was like, "OK, I'm going to join the Harvard Club." Why am I going to join the Harvard Club? Because I went to Harvard.

Right, Harvard Law.

This way, when I take Dean to the club ...

Which has not happened yet. I just want to point that it out.

... I don't have to say that I went to Harvard. Look at the insecurity! I'm so insecure and I'm negotiating with people and talking. trying to bring them into my new business. And there's a guy bussing the table, like a late 30s guy. I'm always nice to him, I tip him, ba-ba. 

Working for Trump "was like an unmitigated disaster for me, but I wanted the job because my ego and my pride were speaking to me. I wanted the job to fit my self-narrative."

About a year into me taking people to the Harvard Club, the bus guy looks over at me. He says, "Mr. Anthony, you're in money management?" I said yes. He explained a personal injury situation that happened to his family. He says, "I just got a check for $35 million. I don't know what to do with it. Could you manage the money for me?" This is 20 years ago, by the way. That $35 million is probably like $100 million today. 

I looked at him and I said, "Well, why me?" He told me, "You're nice to me." So the point is, be nice to people. It's good karma and you don't know where things are at. 

Now, I wasn't equipped to manage that money, so I gave it to a friend. I checked in and they're doing great. That money's up to over $100 million today, but the point is that with all of the negotiations, all that prospecting, the guy that was bussing the table had the most money in the room.

That's kind of remarkable. You also mention your mother in your book. You talk about how you took the job in the White House, even though your wife was like, "Don't do this." But you did it to make your mother proud.

Yeah, to make my mother proud. It fit all the boxes. I grew up in this blue-collar neighborhood. I went to college, went to Tufts and Harvard. I built two successful businesses on Wall Street. Now I'm going to work for the American president, but the American president is "gagoots" — if you watch “The Sopranos,” you might know that means that he was off his rocker. 

My wife hates Trump almost as much as Melania hates him. I mean, that's like my standard of hatred with Trump. She really can't stand the guy and she told me, "Don't do it." We almost got divorced over the whole thing. It was like an unmitigated disaster for me, but I wanted the job because my ego and my pride were speaking to me, Dean. I wanted the job to fit my self-narrative.

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It was a little bit show-offy. It doesn't reflect well on me, but I write honestly about it in the book because if one person can read this book and say, "Wait a minute, let me take my pride and ego out of my decision-making," you're always going to make better decisions when you do that. Every time I've put my pride and my ego into my decision-making, I've had my comeuppance. Investing, career decisions.

How did you meet Donald Trump?

The first time I met Donald Trump was actually at a Robin Hood charity and I was in awe of the guy. You have to remember, I'm not even an outer-borough guy. Trump's chip on his shoulder is that he's from Queens. The action was in Manhattan. His father didn't want to be in Manhattan. He was a cautious guy, so Trump was going to show everybody he was moving to Manhattan. I'm not even an outer-borough guy. I lived out on Long Island. But when I got a copy of “The Art of the Deal,” I was 24 years old. I said, "This guy's a genius." I went to Trump Tower. I said, "This guy's the man." 

Then they put him on TV and I ran into him. I guess it was the early 2000s at the Robin Hood Foundation Dinner. I happened to be working with CNBC at the time. He was working at NBC and then we started socializing. We went to a couple of Yankee games together. We did some charity work together and then where I really got to know him. And Michael Cohen was on the Mitt Romney campaign. People forget this, but Donald Trump endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012 and we did two fundraisers in his triplex apartment at Trump Tower.

"You got to own who you are and you don't have to be bashful or ashamed of anything about who you are and what you represent."

I liked Trump. I got along with him. He was a bit of a character, but he was a New Yorker. I figured, all right, this is fine. I can get along with the guy, but I was not supporting him for president. In 2016, I was with Scott Walker and then I was with Jeb Bush. Trump called me when I was with Jeb Bush. He said, "That guy has low energy.” I said, "He doesn't have low energy. You're being ridiculous." And he said, "Well, look, he's going to come out of the race. When he comes out of the race, I want you to come work for me." 

I write about this in the book. So now, the guy winning the presidential nomination for the Republicans, I'm going to go work for him. Jeb told me not to go work for him — and Jeb disavowed the pledge. I don't know if you remember this, but in 2016, if you were a Republican running for president, you took a pledge that you would support any of the other Republicans. This was designed for when Trump left the race, so he didn't break up the party and create a third party. But he won. By the way, Trump signed that pledge, but Jeb Bush disavowed it. I said, "OK, I'm not going to do that. I'm a loyal Republican. I'm going to go work for Trump.”

And that was fine, because everybody on that campaign thought Trump was going to lose, including Donald Trump. But he won. And that's when the ego came in. That's when the decision-making started to get really bad.

You mentioned Michael Cohen. You're friends with him, and he's obviously had a turn in his life. He was so close to Trump, he was his pit bull. He said he would take a bullet for Trump, and he literally just testified against him. What did think of what Cohen did — the testimony he delivered that might lead to Donald Trump being convicted? How do you think Michael's going to respond if that happens?

Well, he'll probably feel vindicated. Loyalty is not unconditional. Love is unconditional. Your mother loves you unconditionally, Dean. You can make a mistake, your mother's going to love you no matter what.

You do your best you can to love your spouse unconditionally, of course she'll love your children unconditionally. But loyalty is not unconditional. Loyalty is symmetrical. There has to be some level of symmetry to loyalty. If I'm loyal to you, you got to be loyal to me. I can't be asymmetrically loyal because then you look like a turd, so don't be asymmetrically loyal to anybody. 

Michael's mistake was that Trump is congenitally asymmetrically loyal to people because he's such a narcissist that he treats everybody like an object in his field of vision. So if it's working for him at the moment, he's transactional, charming and polite. If it's not working for him — you remember that scene in “The Sopranos” where they ran the guy over at the service station and then they backed up over his head and smashed it like a cantaloupe? That's Donald Trump. 

He's going to hit you with the bus. He doesn't care. So what was surprising about Michael is that he thought he was in the inner sanctum with Trump and that he was never going to get hit with the bus. But Trump hit him with the bus, and I think it shocked Michael so Michael wanted retribution. And so that's where we are right now. 

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Trump has made a lot of mistakes. It's going to cost him the election because he's alienated people that were natural allies of his. The vice president that was on the ticket with him has not endorsed Donald Trump. He said he would never endorse. He's got 40 guys at work. Forget about me, I'm talking about 40 guys that were in the Cabinet. Cabinet secretaries, sub-Cabinet secretaries, generals. Under no circumstances would they endorse Donald. They saw up close and personal the insanity of him, the criminality of him. They said, "Look, I'm never going to endorse the guy. Forget it." 

I tell people, "Listen, if we all worked for a pharmaceutical company who told you the drug was going to kill you, you're going to take the drug?" We told you that the plane was going to drop out of the sky. You're going to board the plane? Why is it in politics when you got the smartest people, the most patriotic people who served the country, who took the guff for serving the country, are telling the truth about somebody — who's still voting for him?

That's a question we should ask millions of people. Why do they support Trump?

It's a cultural thing. There's a segmentation thing. You're a Republican, there's a grievance. Trump represents your grievance. I get it. It's not stupid people that are supporting Trump. It's just that if they got inside the inner sanctum and they saw what I saw, they would under no circumstances support him.

You mentioned Michael Cohen getting hit by the bus, that moment. What was that for you?

Well, for me, I tried to stay loyal to him. He fired me after 11 days. I famously got fired for what I said about Steve Bannon, but that was the top story. The real story was, I was fighting with Donald Trump in the White House and he had enough of me. He said to me on the Saturday before I got fired — I was only there for 11 days, and it was the Saturday before I got fired. I was there for two Saturdays and two Mondays, only one Wednesday, if you're keeping score at home. I knew I was getting fired because on the Saturday he said, "I thought you were working for me. I thought you were a MAGA guy. You're a deep-stater.”

He said that to you?

Yeah. I said, "Mr. President, I'm not a deep-stater. I'm from Port Washington, Long Island. It's the first time I've ever been to Washington. I'm not a deep-stater, but I love my country. And when you swore me in, I took a vow to the Constitution and to the institutions of the United States and to our democracy." On Monday morning I got fired and that's it. And it's fine, I was fine with that. He's the president of the United States. 

When I got fired, and I write about it in this book, it was my fault. I served at the discretion of the president of the United States, and he wanted to hire me on a Friday and fire me on the following Monday, 11 days after he hired me. No problem. I'm a big boy. I'm going to stay loyal to him. And I did, for 2017, for 2018. 

"I'm getting lit up on Twitter [by Trump], and I'm going to tell you something. You see this beautiful Salon mug? That was my face. I was as white as this mug."

Halfway through 2019, I'm on the Bill Maher show. It's August of 2019 and I am defending the president of the United States. I'm a lifelong Republican. I'm defending him. One of the women on the show, she turns to me, she says, "Well, what about the Squad?" These are the four congresswomen that are hard-left leaning. One of them is AOC. Three of them were born here in the United States, and one was naturalized. And Donald Trump was tweeting at that time that these four women of the Squad should go back to the countries they originally came from. So she leans into me. She said, "What about the tweet that these congresswomen should go back to their countries?" I said, "Well, first of all, you and I both know the country they originally came from, for three of them, is the United States." That's No. 1. No. 2, that's classic American nativism. 

That is racism, and they did that to my Italian-American grandmother. Maybe they did that to your Sicilian grandmother. They told these people in the 1920s NINA — no Italians need apply. Go back to the country that you came from. It was very hurtful and it upset my grandmother. I would like the president of the United States not to talk like that. 

Well, in the after-party, Bill Maher came over to me and he said, "Hey, he's going to light you up on Twitter tomorrow." And I was like, "There's no way he's going to light me up on Twitter. I'm supporting him."

"No, no, no," Bill said. "You were seven for eight for Donald Trump tonight. You got to go 13 for 10 for Donald Trump. And since that's mathematically impossible, tomorrow he watches my show and he's going to light you up on Twitter."

I bet Bill Maher dinner. I lost the bet by three o'clock in the afternoon the next day. I'm getting lit up on Twitter and I'm going to tell you something. You see this beautiful Salon mug? That was my face. I was as white as this mug. He's the president of the United States and he's lighting me up on Twitter. 

I was at the Beverly Hills Hotel, on one of the pool cabanas. I got up from the cabana and went to the bathroom. I was unnerved. I splashed water on my face and then my New Yorker-ness came back to me. I said, "Wait a minute. This guy's taking a shot at me on Twitter after everything I did for him?" I said, "Let me light him up." I think I tweeted back to him, "So says the fattest president since William Howard Taft," because I know he hates being so fat, right? I hit him and then he hit me back. 

And then I said, "Wow, You're not really trolling properly anymore. You must be getting old." Because I know he hates that. Then he hit me again and then I hit him. It was getting fun! And every time I hit him, I got an extra 50,000 Twitter followers. And then he does what he does: He starts attacking my wife. And once he did that, I said, "OK, that's it." And I went hard because that's wrong. You're nuts. You can't handle yourself like that in the American presidency. 

I know the game has changed, Dean. I know it's a rougher game. It's an uglier game. I know that it's different from the 1960s and '70s when Reagan ran. I get all that. The formality is gone. We're in a street fight. We're going to play in the gutter. I get all that, but I don't like you going after my wife. I don't like you attacking a civilian who never said a bad thing about you. He knew my wife and I were having problems in our marriage as a result of me going to work for him. It was just like a bro-code breakage, and I said, "That's it. I'm done with the guy."

If he gets back in to the White House, are you concerned that he would come after you?

He probably would come after me, but no, I'm not concerned. I'm an American. I got raised like you did to have no fear. I got raised that this is America. These people work for us, we don't work for them. If he's coming after me, then we're in a very changed America. We're in an autocratic America. We're in an America that our ancestors didn't come to. Our ancestors were fleeing autocracies, aristocracies and they were fleeing the unpredictability of the law that comes from an aristocracy or a dictatorship.

The founding fathers understood that they had to create separation of powers in order to prevent autocracy. And that led to the success of your family and my family because we could live in a primarily merit-based society as opposed to a class system and the sclerosis that you see in Europe. So if Mr. Trump is going to change that, well, that represents a danger and a systemic change to our society. 

I think it's important for people like me who understand freedom, love freedom, love the country to speak out against it. And I will. If I get retribution as a result of that, then I know the society's changed. We got to speak out even harder. We have to advocate even more. But I live my life with no fear. That's another big lesson in this book. Mel Brooks had the best line ever. You know what he said? "Relax, none of us are getting out of here alive."

I want to go out on the right side of the angels. I don't want to go out morally equivocating, like these jokers down at the courthouse [in Manhattan]. They're all wearing the same Trump outfit. They're in 100% polyester, though — you could tell this stuff was from Marshalls. They all look fully flammable with the extra long ties, and they're all auditioning to be the vice president. Some of them are wearing beards.You got to shave your beards, because Trump hates beards. He's like the George Steinbrenner of politics. I'm just trying to give these guys some fashion tips if they want to be the VP.

I think it's interesting, too, that you invoke your family. I often think about how my father came here as an immigrant for what America represented and my grandparents from Sicily came here for what America represented. And what Trump is — it’s an insult to what this nation's supposed to be about and why they came here.

"I don't want to go out morally equivocating, like these jokers down at the [Manhattan] courthouse. They're all wearing the same Trump outfit. They're in 100% polyester, though — you could tell this stuff was from Marshalls."

Trump is as if Huey Long married Charles Lindbergh and they had a baby. They named him Donald Trump and they let Roy Cohn raise the guy. That's the guy and that's what he represents. And by the way, I know that, Mike Pence knows that, Jim Mattis knows that, Gen. [John] Kelly knows that. 

We have 40-plus people that are trying to express to you what he's like and the threat he is to the institutions of democracy. And I'll quote Mark Esper for a moment, the former defense secretary: "I'm a Republican. I will tolerate policy decisions from the Biden administration that I disagree with, in order to make sure that we don't have a systemic threat to the institutions of our democracy and a systemic threat to our constitution." It's that simple: Patriot first, partisan second.

You mentioned that Donald Trump is an existential threat to democracy. As someone who knows him, what is he capable of?

Well, he's got a very smart group of people that are running his campaign. A lot of these Heritage Foundation people believe in something called unitary executive power. So just inviting people back to their eighth-grade social studies, we have three branches of government in the country. The Constitution says that they're separate but equal. 

One of the more fun, enjoyable moments for me in the White House — and this did happen on a Wednesday, Dean. I know because I was only there for one Wednesday — it was Trump and Paul Ryan fighting. And they're tall guys. I'm not tall. And Trump was going like this to Paul Ryan [points finger]. He said, "You work for me. You work for me." Blankety blank, blankety blank. And Paul was like, "I don't work for you. I'm in a totally separate branch, totally separate article of the Constitution. It's a branch of government." I said, "And, by the way, we all work for the American people.”

Trump doesn't like that. Trump and his minions believe in something called unitary executive power, which is to expand the executive branch, empower the executive branch, and weaken the other two branches. He's also said he's going to take the FCC licenses away from people that he disagrees with or that disagree with him. He has said publicly that he's going to use the Department of Justice to persecute his enemies. He said privately to one of his defense attorneys, who immediately dropped him, that he wants to use the FBI as the Gestapo. 

Now, the good thing about that is that he has no historical understanding of our civilizations. He doesn't even know what the word Gestapo really means, in the context of the inhumane things that the Gestapo did in Nazi Germany. But to say it and then to have willing participants, these willing accomplices, it represents an existential danger to the country. So we have to talk about it. We have to speak out about it, because that's the threat.

By Dean Obeidallah

Dean Obeidallah hosts the daily national SiriusXM radio program, "The Dean Obeidallah Show" on the network's progressive political channel. He is also a columnist for The Daily Beast and contributor to Opinion. He co-directed the comedy documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" and is co-creator of the annual New York Arab American Comedy Festival. Follow him on Twitter @DeanObeidallah and Facebook @DeanofRadio

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