Donald Trump hates the media so much that he’s probably going to join it.
Back in June, Vanity Fair reported that the Republican candidate for US president was mulling the launch of his own cable TV channel or media platform, should he lose November’s election to Hillary Clinton. According to people close to him, Trump hoped to leverage his millions of supporters into a loyal television audience, which, to him, might make the long slog of running for president actually worth it in the end.
Hours before that report, Trump tweeted this:
If Trump loses, launching his own news network could be one of his only options. His brand will not emerge from the election unscathed—already there’s evidence that the “Trump” reputation has plummeted among the high-earning consumers his businesses count on.
As of today (Aug. 17), Donald Trump has only a 22.6% chance of winning the election, according FiveThirtyEight’s polls-plus forecast (the site’s polls-only forecast paints an even bleaker picture for Trump). A new Monmouth University poll shows Trump down nine points in Florida, a state he almost certainly needs to win if he wants to be president. Even if he manages to win Florida, Trump still has a lot of work to do in other swing states, like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, to make it close.
So it would seem that, barring an “October Surprise,” Donald Trump will not become president of the United States. On some level, he must know this, and some of his campaign’s recent moves suggest he’s positioning himself to launch said news network in the event of an electoral defeat.
Consider the evidence:
In yet another campaign shakeup, Trump hired Stephen Bannon as his new campaign chief executive. Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, the aggressive right-wing online news network that’s aligned itself closely with Trump and has relentlessly attacked his critics. BuzzFeed reported a year ago that Breitbart staffers privately believed Trump was paying the site in exchange for positive coverage.
Bannon has no campaign experience, but he does control a massive media group whose audience Trump clearly values. Perhaps Trump is hiring Bannon now to oversee the beginnings of a new media conglomerate. Or maybe, instead of creating his own network with Bannon’s help, Trump will submit himself to Breitbart, becoming the publication’s official figurehead and helping it make the leap to cable television.
The former Fox News CEO, who was ousted from his seat atop the conservative cable news empire following repeated allegations that he sexually harassed his female employees, will help prepare Trump for this fall’s presidential debates against Hillary Clinton, the New York Times reported (Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied the report). People close to the situation said Ailes’s role could extend beyond just helping with debate prep.
For all his (alleged) moral failings, Ailes knows how to launch, and maintain, a cable TV behemoth. He’s exactly the type of person you’d reach out to if you had plans to start a network of your own. And, conveniently, Ailes happens to be out of work at the moment.
What most candidates in Trump’s position would do after losing an election is to settle for a cushy gig as a host or contributor at Fox News (see Gingrich, Newt; Huckabee, Mike; Cain, Herman; Giuliani, Rudy; and Carson, Ben). But it’s doubtful that Trump would consent to being just another cog in the Fox News machine. He wants his own machine, one that would rival Fox.
He’s already publicly feuded with the cable news channel, including with some of its most popular anchors. The network rallied around Megyn Kelly after Trump launched a misogynistic tirade directed at her and boycotted a primary debate that she hosted, saying that she was treating him unfairly.
Fox’s median primetime viewer is 68-years-old. For now, the network still dominates the cable news space, but it’s unclear for how much longer. There could be an opening for someone like Trump to cannibalize some of that audience, while figuring out a way to appeal to younger demographics.
Fox’s leading TV host, Sean Hannity, is an Ailes loyalist whose contract just happens to allow him to leave if Ailes departs. Many in the media sphere perceive Hannity to be in Trump’s pocket. RedState, a conservative political blog, said Hannity has “developed a malignant, symbiotic relationship” with Trump. Hannity has pre-blamed anti-Trump conservatives if the candidate loses to Hillary Clinton in November.
If Hannity leaves Fox News, he’d be an ideal fit for whatever news entity Trump (and Ailes?) creates to rival Fox News. Even if Hannity stays put, blaming anti-Trump Republicans could become one of his new mantras after the election—meaning Trump would still have a friend at Fox News if he ever needed one.
BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith wrote a piece today outlining how Trump’s campaign has chiefly been a media product (rallies, interviews, social media screeds, etc.), and why Trump’s new media alliance with Breitbart could end up being his ultimate political legacy.
Trump is only a few years removed from hosting a reality TV series on NBC. He’s cameoed in movies. He body-slammed WWE CEO Vince McMahon on WrestleMania (video). His convention was supposed to be a glamorous Hollywood affair, but it turns out no actual celebrities wanted anything to do with it.
For better or, more likely, for worse, entertainment and showmanship is in Donald Trump’s DNA. He won’t be able to stay out of the spotlight once this election is over. Trump’s presidential campaign might end, but the “Trump Campaign,” as a nebulous political movement, will endure—probably in the form of some type of media enterprise.