Politics

“I Did Not Have a Road-to-Damascus Moment”

Anthony Scaramucci on his transformation from White House communications director to Trump opposition.

Anthony Scaramucci
Anthony Scaramucci attends the Hollywood Reporter’s Most Powerful People in Media 2018 at the Pool on April 12, 2018 in New York City.
Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

On this week’s Trumpcast, Virginia Heffernan spoke with former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci about leaving Trump world, whom he’s supporting in the 2020 election, and missing his child’s birth. A portion of their conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, is below.

Virginia Heffernan: It must have been hard playing a character in Trump world for so long.

Anthony Scaramucci: I wasn’t really playing a character. I applauded what President Trump as a candidate was doing, and I think I got overly biased. You have bias as a result of your upbringing, and then, if you get close to power, guess what happens to you? Power is an aphrodisiac, and power can be corrupting. If you think you’re above those natural forces, look at my life. Because I am not above those natural forces, and I fell prey to some of them in certain areas.

When I was out with the president, and he was campaigning in areas of the country that were blighted, it was very reminiscent of the way I grew up. My dad was a crane operator. He then had a job as a payload operator. He was in a local union. He was an hourly worker, never went to college. My mother was a housewife. But there were very high, blue-collar, middle-class wages back then, and those jobs don’t exist anymore. When he was out there talking about that and the restoration of that and providing hope and opportunity for those people, even though I was a Scott Walker supporter, I was attracted to that.

And when Trump started saying and tweeting things that were nonsensical, what happens from a psychological perspective is you go through a lot of cognitive dissonance, right? You bought the car. The car’s not working super well, but, dammit, you made that decision to buy the car. You start adjusting yourself to the lemon side of the car.

Now, I’ve been blown from the White House unceremoniously due to my autofellatio comment, but we both know that that’s not really true. It was more related to how much press I was getting. The president doesn’t like anybody in the room getting any level of attention. The kiss of death from President Trump is “Hey, you’re getting as famous as me,” or “You’re getting more press than me.” If he says that to you, you’re getting blown out very quickly. That’s why I got fired. No big deal. I didn’t want to be a baby or a whiner after I got fired.

Some of the compromises that you had to make when you were driving that lemon, the chief among them was the lying. Sean Spicer has walked back the whopper about the inauguration crowd. Michael Cohen has repented on his way to jail of what he calls “lyin’ for Mr. Trump” for at least a decade. How about you?

Tell me where I lied for him. I’m not trying to live in denial. I only did one press conference. I answered every one of those questions honestly.

I’m going to give you a classic. The president is visibly infirm. He has a hard time walking upstairs. He’s sluggish. His golf swing is weird. He can barely throw paper towels to suffering people in Puerto Rico. You say, “I have seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I’ve seen him in Madison Square Garden with a topcoat standing in the key hitting shots. I don’t see this as a guy that’s ever under siege.”

I’ve also seen him sink putts to win a golf match. The point I was making—

Talk me through the process of coming up with this.

There was a metaphorical description going on there when they were asking me, “Can he handle pressure? Is he under siege?” I said, “No, I think this guy is not a gun waver. In the shootout in the O.K. Corral, the guy’s not a gun waver. He knows how to hit the target.”

You were amplifying his idea of himself as being always in superlative condition, able to throw a dead spiral and retire.

When you’re that close to power, and you’re sitting in the White House, and you’re in the press room behind the podium that says “the White House,” and you’re trying to curry favor with your boss, you allow yourself to move the guardrails of your principles. How about that?

I am embarrassed about that, and I have to look at that honestly and objectively. Maybe you’re a better person than me, but maybe you’ve never been in that situation, and it may or may not happen to you. And this is one of the reasons why I recommend that people read The Federalist Papers, because our founders were very worried about that. They were worried about the corruptive force of power, and absolute power, and that’s why they defused the system.

There are people inside the White House right now that that’s happening to. They’re either afraid to admit it, they don’t want to be outed or humiliated by the admittance of it, or they are in a siege mentality. Or they’re saying, “If I wasn’t here, this would be way worse than it is right now.”

That’s what I’ve heard that [Attorney General] Bill Barr says. He’s either saving the country or the Republican Party.

You’re not doing that, Bill. What you are doing is you’re enabling madness, and we have somebody at the top of the food chain now who is mad. He’s expressing mania and a full-blown nervous breakdown.

For some reason you fell into this thing. It’s almost like the NXIVM cult. Why you? Why Barr? You described yourself as an alpha male on your podcast recently …

Did I?

Yeah. If someone so much as flirts with your wife, you put his head in the toilet.

Italian baptism. I said, “Stop flirting with her or you’re going into the toilet.” I flushed his head in the toilet only twice, and then I picked his head up out of the toilet.

Eight years ago, I underwent a religious conversion and a wrenching personal change by admitting I was an alcoholic and getting sober. I want to hear about how your conversion happened. Was it agonizing like mine? Or did you have a bright-light moment?

As I wrote in the Washington Post, I did not have a road-to-Damascus moment.

When you grow up in a blue-collar, rough-and-tumble environment, and you get super lucky where you’re born with a decent-enough brain, and you’ve got enough talent and hard work where you end up at Harvard Law School—there’s no legacy, there’s no donation, there’s no nothing. You just scrapped your way there, and now you have to figure out a way to pay for it.

You pay off all your school debt, you go to Goldman, you build two successful businesses, and someone whom you liked goes on to become the president of the United States and asks you for help. You have literally lived the American dream. And then you have the opportunity to affect policy, help the American people—forgive me, but I was drawn to that.

I didn’t grow up in a country club. I don’t know how to hit a golf ball. I don’t know how to hit a tennis ball. And I couldn’t go to my dad and say, “Hey, Pops. What was it like in that rough-and-tumble company’s boardroom? What is it like inside the Beltway?” He didn’t know.

What do you have to say to the old guard, who might see you and me as a carnival act? Is that pure snobbery?

The country’s first name is United. And at the end of the day, whether my parents were hit, or called derogatory slang, or my grandmother was told to go back to the country that she came from, she loved this country, and they love the country, and I am enormously and passionately in love with the country because we were able to actualize here. We were able to live to our true dreams.

But the system is broken. I’m a trained economist running a lot of money. If you look at the balance between labor and capital distribution right now, it’s 60 to capital, 40 to labor, roughly. When it’s 50-50, the country’s very happy. When it goes awry, you get this divide, you get this anxiety, you get this class envy, you get this wage crisis.

What I would say very simply to you is that I would say we’re in a crisis now. To me, it’s almost like a Pearl Harbor. We have to come together. And if there’s a group of Republicans that want to hold on to power, and they want to equivocate, and gaslight, and move the goal post along with President Trump, I understand why they’re doing it. I’m trying to open up, praying that they’re going to come off the ramp the way I did—

It sounds like your off-ramp might lead you into the arms of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

No, because you can’t do it top-down. We’ve proven through 150 years of failed socialist experimentation that you can’t do it top-down. But what you can do is you go back to the second Roosevelt—Franklin—and Eisenhower, and you look at what they were trying to do. You can do it through the tax policy, and social policy incentivizing the free market to get there.

Who’s your candidate?

We have to see. I think we’re still very early. I know that sounds crazy, but I believe that Donald Trump will not be the Republican nominee. I think he’s in severe mental decline, and I think he is severely impaired at this point. I think that they’re going to say, “Hey, you pitched five or six good innings. The ball’s going over the backstop now. … Let’s get you out of here on a high road. You don’t have to have Mike Pence become president, but let’s just tell people you’re not running for reelection.”

If it’s Joe Walsh and Pete Buttigieg, where are you?

If you remember, I did one press conference—I’m still one up on [White House press secretary] Stephanie [Grisham]. In that press conference, I didn’t answer a hypothetical, and I reminded people that the first thing they teach you in law school is don’t answer the hypothetical because you don’t know. And it’s too far away.

Deidre, your wife, filed for divorce on the grounds that your ambition had gotten the most of you, that you’d chosen Trump over her. She says you’re both helicopter parents now, but you weren’t two years ago when you missed your baby’s birth and stayed with Trump and wrote her a curt text. That’s the kind of thing a drunk would do, the kind of thing when you’re just selfishly gunning it through your life, trying to get ahead and losing sight of the big picture. What do amends to Deirdre look like?

A lot of that stuff is a lot of misinformation. I’m not equivocating—I just want to lay out the facts. As an example, two weeks ago, Republican operatives dropped a story on me that I was at a Joe Biden fundraiser. I was not at a Joe Biden fundraiser. I was at a charity fundraiser for the Greek Orthodox Church. Joe Biden came for three minutes to accept an award for his deceased son. But the Republican operatives put me at a Joe Biden fundraiser to try to make me look like a traitor or a Benedict Arnold to the Republican Party.

But when did Deidre’s water break?

Let’s talk about that. Ready?

Yep.

Our baby was born on July 24, 2017. We were fighting. She had filed for divorce. There was an agreement that I was going to be at the baby’s delivery. The baby was due on Aug. 8. When I got to the Boy Scout Jamboree on Air Force One, we then took a 50-minute trip in a caravan to the jamboree. I then got notification from Deidre that her water was breaking and that she was going into delivery. I tried to get back to New York. That was completely left out of the story. I called NetJets. I called Charter Flights. You may know this, but there’s a 60-mile ground stop around Air Force One. I did not know that, but I learned it on the day that my son was born.

I couldn’t get to an airport or get back to New York in time for the delivery of the baby. That was never reported in the New York Post. What was reported was my blind ambition, my drunken status, whatever you want to call it, and all of that sort of definition, but there’s a lot more texture to the story than the way it happened.

I love Deidre. Deidre loves me. It took great balls for her to fire the divorce cannonball over the transom of me. I admire her for it. OK? When I was in the White House, I was trying to figure out a way to reconcile with her. I was blown from the White House, and we began the process of reconciliation shortly thereafter. And we’ve been working on it for the last two years. I think it’s going well. You’d have to ask her.

But here’s the point of the story: It wasn’t just Trump. We had other personal things that we were dealing with, between our parents and other things that were going on, and we were making a lot of mistakes. But we love each other very much, and we reconciled.

I’m a guy who really believes in trying my best to do the right thing. And it doesn’t mean I’ve done the right thing at every turn in my life, but I own those mistakes in my marriage. I own those mistakes working for Trump. And when you asked me about what am I going to do to clean it up, the only thing I can do is work on making sure that he’s not reelected. And I’m going to do that with my personal money, raising money, articulating why he cannot be the president for the next four to five years.

If that’s not enough for people, then I’m sorry. Judge me the way you want to judge me. But just recognize that if you have this improbable life where you’ve grown up in a blue-collar neighborhood with blue-collar parents and you somehow managed to be in the White House for 11 seconds or 11 days and you build two successful businesses, you got a set of nuts on you, which you know I do because I have no problem going toe-to-toe with this guy.

Not commenting on your nuts, but yeah.

Yeah, but you know I do, OK? If you’re listening to my podcast, we had a sociologist on, and I told him my nuts were the size of grapefruits. He said, “That’s a sign of promiscuity.” I said, “No, no. I meant green peas in the Jolly Green Giant frozen foods section.”

But my point is, I’ve got no fear. And I also have no problem explaining to people how I got in the soup with him and why it’s so important, if they’re in the soup with him, that it’s OK to get out of the soup.

What does personal success and fulfillment look like for you right now? After the election, what would make it seem like the Scaramucci life was really back on track?

I think it already is. When I got blown from the White House, which was 15-stage humiliation globally, a lot of people called me to offer me help. And I said to somebody in one of these interviews, it was like George Bailey. I hit my head on the bridge. I was in an alternative universe for 11 days. I was like, man, I’ve got to get back to my life. Is there a God? Help me figure out a way to get back to my life.

Did you actually ask God for help?

I asked God for help every single day. I’m a very faithful person. I was raised Roman Catholic. I am not in love with the priest. We don’t have to go into that, but—and no one ever molested me, thank God. I was too smart. My mother wanted me to be an altar boy. I was like, “There’s no way I’m going near those people.” But I am raised as a Catholic, and I am a very faithful, very religious person. I asked God for help every single day. So I am a very blessed guy, because you have to think about where I was on July 31, 2017, and thinking about where I am today. I thank God every day for that.

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