NEW YORK ― Trump TV? Trump News? Trumpbook?
The working assumption lately among media and politics watchers is that if Donald Trump loses in November, he’ll follow his true passion: media stardom.
Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison reported in June that Trump was already discussing plans for a “mini-media conglomerate” that would presumably leverage the supporters he’s drawn to his presidential candidacy over the past year.
On Wednesday, The New York Times added to the growing speculation about Trump’s post-election agenda. Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, publisher of the New York Observer, “have quietly explored becoming involved with a media holding, either by investing in one or by taking one over,” the Times reported.
Trump has always been a creature of the media, an incessant self-promoter who’s seemed to relish both courting and criticizing the press. For decades, he was perhaps the most accessible celebrity in New York City.
He still can’t stop himself as a presidential candidate, despite attacking the “dishonest” media constantly at rallies and on his Twitter feed. He routinely bashes The New York Times, yet talks to the paper regularly. He banned The Washington Post from his rallies over a perceived slight, but still gave its reporters 20 hours of interviews for an upcoming book. He’s scaled back his TV presence, but still makes time for Fox News.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has bragged about his social media following, TV ratings and ubiquity on magazine covers, while complaining that the networks are getting rich off his candidacy. Trump’s media obsession was evident in a June interview with The Hollywood Reporter: He appeared stumped by a question about Brexit, just weeks before the vote, yet offered opinions on specific executives at CNN, NBC, CBS, Fox News, Viacom and 21st Century Fox. (Now, of course, Trump is declaring that he’ll one day be known as “Mr. Brexit.”)
Trump’s inner circle is also filled with media figures. Kushner has been one of his closest advisers throughout the race, and he’s now reportedly getting debate prep from Roger Ailes, the disgraced former Fox News chairman and veteran Republican operative. On Wednesday, Trump hired Steven Bannon, a former banker and executive chairman of the unflinchingly pro-Trump outlet Breitbart News, to run his campaign.
It should be surprising that a Republican nominee would hire a fiery right-wing media executive with no campaign experience to lead his team through the final three months of a presidential election. And yet, to Breitbart critics and Breitbart staff alike, it all makes a weird sort of sense.
“I consider myself pretty perceptive, so I won’t say I was shocked,” Alex Marlow, editor-in-chief of Breitbart News, told The Huffington Post on Wednesday. “But it’s definitely one of these things where you can’t fully believe it until you see that headline.”
“As someone who heard [Bannon] openly boast about his close proximity and relationship with the campaign ... it’s both surprising but, when you really think about it, not,” Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart News spokesman-turned-critic, told HuffPost.
The hiring of Bannon has only added to a growing sense that Trump’s endgame is more about drawing an audience to himself than bringing voters to the ballot box.
The notion that a presidential candidate would be competing hardest in the waning months of an election for potential subscribers or viewers down the line is unprecedented in American politics. But Trump’s recent actions have suggested to a number of journalists and political operatives that his greatest ambition might not be the White House.
After I tweeted the Times’ nugget about Trump and Kushner’s media aspirations, the overwhelming response boiled down to: “Of course.”