In the final months of the 2016 election, when Hillary Clinton was consistently leading in the polls and just about everyone believed she would become our next president, rumors were swirling that Donald Trump was already making post-election plans. Those plans didn’t include the White House, but rather the creation of a new cable-news network called “Trump TV.”
It wasn’t just baseless Internet gossip. Jared Kushner was quite vocal about the idea, having recognized the huge ratings and crowd sizes his father-in-law was drawing. Kushner reportedly went as far as discussing the venture with serious players in the media business. Fox News commentators, including some who were pretty tight with Trump, even mused about the premise on-air, coyly suggesting that Trump himself had approached them about it.
While it’s highly doubtful that Trump TV was the plan from the start, a number of Trump associates (including some involved with his campaign) later claimed that the presidential run began as an elaborate publicity stunt for the Trump brand — a stunt that got carried away when the media circus that surrounded it led to very real political momentum.
Had Trump lost in 2016, that momentum could have laid the foundation for the network he had in mind. Famously obsessed with attention and ratings, he had already proven that there was a huge, sustainable appetite for his particular political brand of grievance-stoking, identity-driven bravado. From a competitive standpoint, he had also demonstrated that he could turn loyal, longtime Fox News viewers against popular on-air figures at the network, including Megyn Kelly and Charles Krauthammer.
Monetizing the movement he created would have made perfect sense, especially for a businessman of Trump’s ilk.
But Trump didn’t lose. To the surprise of many (including himself), he became president. And Fox News took best advantage of the audience he’d forged by increasingly catering to it, and largely morphing into what was likely the vision for Trump TV.
Four years later, Trump’s in a similar situation. Election night is just a few months away, and as he runs for the presidency (this time as the incumbent), his numbers are looking even worse than the first time around (including in key swing-states). But even as the country struggles through a health crisis (that has killed more than 130,000 Americans) and an economic crisis (with millions out of work), this is the type of stuff our president is still expressing concern about on Twitter:
Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2020
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2020
Stoking pointless culture battles and griping about the media treating him poorly… It’s as if nothing has changed.
While Trump’s rhetorical style and endless list of grievances have long been more exhibitive of a cable-news commentator (or angry call-in listener) than an elected official, there’s something interesting about that second tweet. It includes a narrative that Trump has spent quite a bit of extra time on in recent months: the notion that Fox News has “changed” and that it is becoming part of the “Fake News” media he regularly complains about.
Here are another couple of examples:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2020
In case you haven’t noticed, Trump has a habit of evoking dead individuals (who aren’t around to defend themselves or correct the record) to make certain points about people in the media he doesn’t like. He has repeatedly referenced the legacy of Mike Wallace to attack his son, Chris, and we of course remember him disgracing the memory of Lori Klausutis to go after Joe Scarborough.
Lately, he’s been throwing around the name of Roger Ailes, the late former CEO of Fox News, to suggest that the network (without Ailes’s leadership) has become hostile toward him.
Of course, that’s ridiculous. As accommodating to Trump as Fox News had become by July of 2016 (when Ailes was given the boot), the servility paled in comparison to the slobbering love-fest that followed and continues to this today on the network. It’s not even close.
Under Ailes, there was still a number of prominent conservative commentators at Fox who pushed back against Trumpism on a regular basis (even though a lot of viewers didn’t like it). These days, hardly any do… and that’s because the network responded to what the increasingly tribal base wanted.
So, what’s Trump talking about when he complains about Fox turning on him? Could it be that he became so spoiled by years of cheerleading at the network that he, over time, grew more sensitive to the few dissenting voices that remained?
Maybe. Another theory, that doesn’t necessarily have to be exclusive from the first one, is that he’s seeing some writing on the wall in regard to November. Perhaps he’s burned out on the pressures of the job (who could blame him?), looking at his terrible poll numbers, and already thinking about what he wants to do post-presidency… should he lose.
If so, it would seem that he’d be in a far better position to make Trump TV a reality than he was four years ago. If Biden wins, all Trump would have to do is blame his loss on the “Fake News” (including Fox), and vow to “Make the Media Great Again” with his own network. His loyal fan-base would assuredly follow him.
It’s really not that hard to visualize.
Rather than cover and analyze big news stories, Trump TV hosts and contributors could spend all their time on topics like sports players kneeling for the nation anthem, television ratings, the deep state, the War on Christmas, liberal protests, far-left academia, celebrities saying crazy stuff, and the terribleness of the New York Times, CNN, Jeff Bezos, and Mitt Romney. You know, the cultural and personal conflict-type stuff that Trump really enjoys talking about.
There wouldn’t have to be any hard news at all… Not even breaking news. Just animated bar talk, and people griping about stuff.
And really, I can’t imagine Trump would have a lot of trouble finding individuals to fill those roles, being that so many right-wing pundits have adopted Trumpism as the near totality of their brand over the past four or five years. I’m thinking current Fox News contributors like Dan Bongino and Mollie Hemingway, former Fox News hosts like Eric Bolling and even Bill O’Reilly, and past and present members of Trump’s administration and campaign, like Sarah Sanders, Corey Lewandowski, and Kellyanne Conway.
Maybe Lou Dobbs could even do brief, Andy Rooney style monologues, where he ponders various problems that Trump could have easily solved, had illegal immigrants not conspired to hand Joe Biden an illegitimate electoral victory.
I’m being a bit facetious here, but I’m guessing you catch my drift.
Even if Trump loses in November, his brand will continue on. His voice will remain mega-phone loud, and his base will continue to eat up every word. And if you don’t think Trump has a post-election contingency plan for keeping himself in the limelight, feeding his own ego, and making money off it, I dare say you haven’t paid close enough attention to the man.