Trump – Not Here to Make Friends

December 14, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’ve revised my theory of Trump. My old version was based on the idea that what motivated Donald Trump was the profound fear that somewhere in the world there was someone who had not heard of him. (This assessment was not original with me. I can’t remember who I’m stealing it from – Gail Collins probably) The corollary is that Trump does not really want to be president. Being president is hard work, and of the sort that Trump has little talent or taste for. But running for president could bring untold publicity, most of it free.

That explains the outrageous statements – about Obama, about McCain, about Mexicans, about Megyn Kelly, et al. This kind of talk guarantees the attention of the media and therefore the public. Everybody’s going to be talking about Trump. But ultimately these calumnies also assure that he will not win the presidency and probably not even the GOP nomination. For the Donald it’s win-win. He gets tons of publicity, and he doesn’t have to worry about being president. It’s also much easier than running to win since you don’t have to worry about how every word you say might affect your ratings with the electorate.

Now comes Ezra Klein with a variant explanation. Ezra takes the candidacy at face value and assumes that Trump is in it to win it. But the model for the Trump campaign is not traditional politics, where he has no experience. Nor is it the real estate business. Instead, it is the area of Trump’s greatest success – reality television.*

Donald Trump is what would happen if you took the skills of a reality television star and put them in a presidential campaign.

In reality TV, the goal is to become famous. You become famous by getting air time, and one of the ways to get air time is to be outrageous even if that means being offensive. As the famous trope goes, “I’m not here to make friends.” (A video montage of this phrase from dozens of reality TV shows is here.)

In politics – unfortunately for Ezra’s take on Trump, though fortunately for the country – winning and getting publicity are not the same thing. In reality TV, you can win even if you lose. Everyone who watched Season One of The Apprentice remembers Omorosa, the villain of the show, even though she was fired in Week 9. Does anyone remember those who outlasted her including the winner, someone named Bill Rancic? By TV criteria, Omorsa was the winner. She was the one invited back for two other editions of the show. (Of the original cast of Season One, she is the only contestant to have a Wikipedia entry. She is also the first one shown in the clip linked to in the previous paragraph.)

One other difference between reality TV and politics (and real business as well): in politics, having friends and being able to make friends are great assets.

* You can hear this discussion on the latest episode of The Weeds (here starting at about 49:00), a podcast from Vox.

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