Maybe This Was All Just a PR Stunt
If you read Trump’s Utility Function, I made an offhand comment that the Trump Campaign is just an elaborate hoax, and all Trump really wanted to do was start his own TV network. Given how he’s been behaving since the 1st Debate, if we now applied the utility function, that would be the outcome. And I’m not the only one suggesting this. But let’s be clear. I totally called it, and a lot of people are giving me credit.
No, I left it as a offhand comment, but I never stopped thinking it. At the time, he had already gotten the nomination, and we thought he might pivot to a normal candidate. (We were all so innocent then). That possibility never left my mind, but when you’re trying to warn people about a meteor falling towards the Earth, you don’t suggest it could be an advertisement for Paramount’s next disaster movie, “The Day Trump Destroyed the Earth”.
So, first a little history. Presidential candidates that don’t intend to win are not unusual Often, their reason is to make a social impact and don’t get past their parties nomination. Bernie Sanders is a great example of this. He wanted to make sure Clinton kept to the “left” of the democratic party, when she was likely to to move “center’ or even ”right”. There have also been notable cases in history who ran as independents or obscure third parties to either make a point or keep their issues from being ignored. The first African American, George Edward Taylor, and woman, Victoria Woodhull, were such cases. In fact, the vast majority of third party candidate, despite what they say, don’t expect to be elected, but if they get significant numbers of votes their platform can be adopted, or at least considered by one of the two major parties. A la Libertarians.
However, lately there has been a new development in our electoral system. Running for president, at least as a republican, is a good way to make money. After McCain lost to Obama in 2008, his Vice Presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin, then a relative unknown, became a star to certain segments of republicans and conservatives. In a very real way, she was pre-Trumpian.
Then, shortly after returning to her governorship, she decided to quit before the end of her first term. (You betcha.) Maybe she did it because several problems were about to surface about her governorship. Maybe she was traumatized by Tine Fey.
More likely she saw the opportunity to make lots of money.
She was a conservative celebrity and like all celebrities she could make money with her name. There were books, bus tours, employment on Fox News, a reality TV show, and, yes, even a Sarah Palin network. She’s 12 hours past her 15 minutes of fame now, but she accumulated 12 million dollars before fading away. Not bad for 3rd runner up to Miss Alaska.
Also from that primary, Governor Mike Huckebee turned his failed presidential run into a show on Fox. The 2012 and 2106 primary candidate Senator Rick Santorum runs a movie studio. There’s a political entertainment industry, and running for president is a good way to make money from it. And let’s be clear. Anybody can get in the “political entertainment industry”. I hear they’ll even let anybody blog about it.
And then there was Herman Cain. Former CEO of Godfather’s pizza and “motivational speaker”, Herman Cain for a heartbeat looked like he might win the Republican Nomination, only to be completely undone. Since you can’t say I’m running for president to sell books, speaking tours, and the chance to complain about Obama on Fox News, I never heard Herman Cain actually say he was doing it for the money. However, given his lack of experience and total lack of preparation, he would have been deluded to think he was making a real run for president. This does not look like a man who wanted to be president.
Cain, also, shows the perils of running this way. The problem was that he started to succeed. If he had gone relatively unknown, he would be selling his 5th best seller now. However, when you look like you might be president, your whole life gets scrutinized. There better not be something you don’t want the whole country to know. Oops.
So, now we have the 2016 primaries. For a hot minute, Ben Carson looked like he might be the winner. Again, Carson, the former neurosurgeon, best selling author, and “motivational speaker” announced his bid for president. This time, Carson was already making his money from “political entertainment”. At the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, he gave a powerful conservative speech. This led to a profitable career selling books, writing columns, and showing up on Fox News. Upon his announcement to run for president he made even more. But again, given his lack of preparation, he’d have to be delusional to believe he could be president. Fortunately, for Ben his undoing was only himself.
OK, maybe he was deluded. But, the point is still true. He’s made big bucks running for president, and unless Trump brings him down, he’ll make more. (If you think I’m being to hard on poor Ben, note he works for the Trump campaign now. If that is not proof of lack of judgement, I don’t know what is).
So now what about Trump. If you’ve been following me, he’s ignored all common wisdom on how to be president. And before you push back at that, he’s fighting to keep 40% of the vote. Scott Baio could get 40% of the vote. Heck, Gary Johnson is getting 10%. But 40% viewers for a media empire is a win.
Yet, Cain has show us that there is peril in doing too well. Maybe Trump never expected to win the nomination. Then again, he should not expect that to be a problem. After all, Trump has been in the public eye for decades, surely there’s nothing out there to ruin him. Like say a video tape where he confesses to sexual predation.
There are, however, some big differences between our Trump and Palin, Cain, and Carson. To begin with, while there was a good financial upside for them, we’re looking at small potatoes for Trump. (Unless he still needs to pay off those rubber chickens.) There would have to be something bigger.
Another differences is those other candidates started with some true bona fides in the conservative movement. What bona fides did Trump have before running? Bitherism? (And if it's that’s, it suggests some disturbing directions I’ll have go into later.)
And of course there’s the difference that Trump actually got nominated for president. Bernie Sanders may have started out wanting only to push “left” issues, but once it looked possible that he could get the nomination, Sanders ran to win. I would not be surprised to see him try again in 2020. Once Trump got the nomination who knows how is thinking changed.
Remember that wanting to be president or start your own media empire are not mutually exclusive. Each can be a back up plan for the other. In other words, Trump could be doing this “be president” thing and the media thing is just what happens if he falls short. That’s actually a good way for a businessman to think. (Yeah, I just said Trump did something right in business. Don’t get used to it.) Having a plan B from the start, however, is a disaster for politicians. People can tell when you’re not giving your all.
When I saw Trump’s 3rd Debate performance, I was left with the impression that he still wanted to be president. By saying what Evangelicals and Conservatives wanted to hear, he may have gotten up in the polls slightly, Not enough to close the gap, but if the scenario I described in When Can We Say Trump Will Not Be President? is valid that could be enough.
So, what position is ole Trumpy boy likely to be in on Nov 9th? A good guess he will have gotten at least 35% of the vote, and given what they were willing to put up with, they would be enthusiastic voters. However, they will not all translate to viewers (or followers). Some of those are not voting for Trump. They’re voting against Clinton or for the Republican nominee. Then, we are talking about the final months of an election year. Those paying attention to “politics’ are much less than that. And finally, at that point he will be a loser and a toxic one at that.
In addition, Trump will no longer have the backing of the Republican Party. When you say “illegal immigrants are rapists” as the republican nominee for president, those supporting you can say. “What do you mean racist? Are you calling all republicans racist?” However, when you say it on the Trump channel you don’t have that kind of cover.
Still, Trump could still have millions of supporters for his next venture. Not enough to be president, but a great start for most other endeavors. His political future gets complicated because it's entwined with the future of the Republican Party. So for now, let's assume we're talking about Trump TV.
Not idle talk at all. Those close to Trump have started to make some of the first steps. Roger Ailes and Steve Bannon, already part of the campaign, are the kind of people you might want. Now ask me if I think it will work.
Fine, don’t ask. I’m going to tell you anyway, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
First of all, history is not on his side. The Sarah Palin Channel and Al Gore’s Current TV were failures.
Second, you need content. Even Trump can’t talk for 24 hours a day. What’s he going to do? Show prison shows over the weekend. (I made a funny about MSNBC.) Maybe he can resurrect Wayne’s World.
And finally, Trump will need cable companies to carry him. If he’s viewed as too toxic, they won’t. Glenn Beck was making Fox News a lot of money. They still dropped him.
What about TV on the Web. Sure, that’s what Glenn Beck is doing. It's called The Blase. So, tell me. When was the last time someone talked to you about what they saw on The Blase? He might as well do a blog.
Kidding aside, this could be the most likely outcome. Then again Glenn Beck's Media Empire is currently in trouble. Using him as a model we can see where this will go for Trump. At least at the start, the viewers need to have some tech savy to know how to access this kind of media. That will cut into Trump's potential viewers. This kind of business can also take a long time to take off. Beck started in 2011. The next presidential election will be starting before he makes a profit. And, the biggest problem, as the economy gets better, fewer want to watch dark conspiracy theories. In other words, his campaign. Like Trump Airlines, he'll be bucking the current trends.
What about a website? You mean like Breitbart? Sure, Bannon’s doing great with that. Wait, Bannon’s already doing that. What’s Trump going to add? A big gold T?
What about a blog? Yep. They’ll let anyone do a blog, but the pay sucks.
Now I’m way out of my depth here. Trump should, frankly, be an expert, or at least know more than me. Maybe he can make this work. My instinct is that we’re looking at the next Trump Magazine.