Plenty of Republican candidates have turned their time on the presidential trail into the springboard for a reality TV career. It’s became such a truism, that you can count on some candidates signing up each cycle just to boost their TV-Q (looking at you, Huckabee). Most of the time this means contracting for a daily hour of hate on Fox News, fighting John McCain for airtime on Sunday mornings, or turning your life into an ongoing soap opera like Caribou Boo, Sarah Palin.
When Donald Trump first launched his campaign, many observers thought he was playing the same game—that his laughable presence in the candidate ranks was little more than a ploy to boost his pay for The Apprentice and maybe net a very special episode of Undercover Boss. But as Trump rolled through the primary season and knocked off one “serious” candidate after another, people began to think that Trump, too, was serious.
But maybe they’re wrong. Maybe they simply underestimated Trump's media ambitions.
It is increasingly clear that Trump’s actions are inconsistent with any rational plan to become president. He is unpopular on a scale that defies historical precedent, utterly loathed by overwhelming majorities. Some people believed Trump was merely playing the part of a right-wing provocateur in order to stand out from the field and win his party’s nomination, and would “pivot” to the center afterward, but these hopes have been dashed. Trump has only become more hated. Nor is he doing basic tasks required of a nominee. When he was asked to call two dozen major Republican donors, Politico reports, Trump called three of them and then packed it in.
In fact, it seems that every time Trump’s numbers start to look as if he might have a ghost of a chance, he calls in the Ghostbusters by topping himself with some new racist, nativist, conspiracy-themed rhetoric. Trump is setting up no campaign infrastructure. He’s indicating that he’s running on his own and counting on his charming personality to sway voters to his cause. If Donald Trump was actually running to not be president, how would that differ from what he’s doing now?
But Trump can’t be doing this to raise the value of his name in real estate. The kind of associations he’s building between the Trump brand and knee-jerk hate are poison to the relationships needed for the hotel, casino, and real estate operations Trump has run in the past.
So perhaps Trump is actually campaigning for an entirely new role: Media mogul.
… Sarah Ellison reports that Trump is exploring the possibility of a television or other media venture that would cater to his loyalists. “According to several people briefed on the discussions, the presumptive Republican nominee is examining the opportunity presented by the ‘audience’ currently supporting him,” she writes. “He has also discussed the possibility of launching a 'mini-media conglomerate' outside of his existing TV-production business, Trump Productions LLC.”
Why is Trump shunning reporters from some of the biggest news organizations? At least partly because they dared utter unfavorable words about some of this conspiracy-mongering, but possibly because he wants to confine all the Trump news to … Trump News. He wants to be the first and last stop for the inside scoop on all things Donald.
Yes, Trump is happy enough that he’s been gifted $55 million worth of free media coverage. But even better would be if Trump could make money off of just opening his mouth.
In a way, it’s the ultimate evolution of everything he’s tried to do. Trump Tower had to have an actual tower. Trump Steaks had to deliver at least some form of mystery meat. Even Trump Water required someone to crack open a tap.
But Trump TV? The primary product is nothing but hot air, and Trump has plenty of that. With his own TV channel to sell to cable and satellite services, Trump’s every rant becomes a source of revenue. And if there is space for commercials, there’s still plenty of room to market Trump Tinfoil Hats and Trump Muslim Detectors and Trump Portable Walls at regular intervals.
… if this is Trump’s plan, it makes sense. Perhaps he grasps a truth the official Republican Party has refused to acknowledge: The conservative base is a subculture. It is a numerically large subculture, but a subculture nonetheless.
There aren’t enough angry white racists to win a presidential election, but there are plenty to power a successful television channel. Trump doesn’t have to be a genius to figure that out (see: Palin, Sarah).
And maybe this is just speculation, but hey, if Trump can run a campaign based on conspiracy theories, it seems only right to have a few conspiracy theories about his campaign.
Don’t forget to look for Chris Christie’s show around 3AM. It’ll be between two infomercials. Like a bridge.