It’s always wise to have a Plan B. And because Plan A — the Oval Office — is looking less and less likely, Donald Trump surely has something else in mind.
Will that something else be a new television-and-digital-media venture? As the candidate himself might phrase it, “a lot of people think so.”
After all, Trump is good buddies with the recently deposed Roger Ailes, co-founder of Fox News, and just brought over Stephen Bannon, chairman of Breitbart News, to run his campaign. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, brings more media experience as the owner and publisher of the weekly New York Observer.
And Trump has found a big (if not quite big enough) and voracious audience to follow him wherever he leads.
“They’ll turn the campaign into a news network,” predicts Ben Shapiro, the former editor at large of Breitbart and a conservative commentator and author.
And just where on the spectrum might such a venture position itself?
“Bannon and Trump see an opening to the right of Fox,” Shapiro said.
There’s no love lost between Shapiro and Bannon. In March, Shapiro resigned after Breitbart News sided with the Trump campaign rather than defend its reporter Michelle Fields, who (credibly) said she was roughed up by then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. He has since called Breitbart News “Trump’s personal Pravda.”
Shapiro has a dim but entertaining view of the programming that Trump TV, shall we call it, might offer.
The venture might start fairly small, he said, and buy a four-hour block on Newsmax, the conservative cable channel. He envisions this opening lineup:
“An hour of ‘The Sean Hannity Show,’ an hour of ‘The Ann Coulter Show,’ an hour of ‘The Milo Yiannopoulos Show’ and ‘The Steve Bannon Yells at You for an Hour Show.’ ”
One element would be unavoidable, of course — the star of the show.
“We would get lots and lots of Trump,” predicts Erick Erickson, the conservative radio host.
The candidate already has proved himself adept at social media with his combative judgments and media criticisms on Twitter. Erickson, however, thinks a full-blown TV network is “more of a pipe dream” and that “another tell-all book to get him back in the good graces of a lot of Republicans” is more likely. Or, he thinks, Trump might decide on another reality-TV show, perhaps with a political spin.
Glenn Beck, who left Fox in 2011 to start what is now called TheBlaze, told BuzzFeed last week that he thinks Trump will go the route not of a cable network but, as Beck did, that of an online, subscription-based video channel.
Indeed, there are serious questions about whether the candidate really could form a new TV network — an extraordinarily expensive proposition that requires a kind of long-term discipline and attention span Trump rarely exhibits. (The direct involvement of Ailes is problematic, because his departure from Fox after recent allegations of sexual harassment reportedly included a four-year agreement not to compete with the network he founded.)
Erickson wonders who would advertise on such a network — he thinks the pickings would be very slim.
But there is no question that Trump and TV go together like Michael Phelps and chlorinated water.
In the new book “Trump Revealed,” The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher and Michael Kranish explore how Trump’s reality-TV show, “The Apprentice,” transformed his image and unexpectedly gave him a political platform and base.
“ ‘The Apprentice’ turned Trump from a blowhard Richie Rich who had just gone through his most difficult decade into an unlikely symbol of straight talk, an evangelist for the American gospel of success,” they wrote.
And that translated straight into politics: Mark Burnett, the show’s creator, “came to believe that if Trump ever ran for president, it wouldn’t be a result of ‘The Apprentice,’ but without ‘The Apprentice’ there could be no candidacy.”
After November, with a base of support revved up and angry at what probably will be billed as a stolen election, what would make more sense than for the Trump pendulum to swing back to TV?
Sarah Ellison of Vanity Fair, whose June article brought the speculation about a post-election media venture to a full boil, quoted a close-to-Trump source: “Win or lose, we are onto something here. We’ve triggered a base of the population that hasn’t had a voice in a long time.”
Many of the pieces, therefore, are in place: an eager audience whose politics demand feeding, an experienced corps of media experts already on board and Trump himself, who craves the constant attention that such an enterprise could bring. Bannon, a former investment banker, could begin lining up investors for the venture immediately.
Whatever happens, it seems unlikely that Trump simply would slink off to the golf courses near Mar-a-Lago should things not go his way Nov. 8. His brand — higher-profile than ever before, if less admired by many — needs constant polishing and exposure.
Whatever its size and scope, a post-election media venture of some sort makes all too much sense.
As the future nominee said himself in a 1990 Playboy interview, “The show is Trump, and it’s sold-out performances everywhere.”
I wouldn’t bet against it for a second. And I wouldn’t want to watch it for any longer than that.
For more by Margaret Sullivan, visit wapo.st/sullivan.