Donald Trump is an unorthodox politician in lots and lots of ways. Nowhere is he more different than your average pol, however, than in his very public obsession with cable television.
Here's Trump from Tuesday morning.
Funny, if you listen to @FoxNews, the Democrats did not have a good day. If you listen to the other two, they are fawning. What a difference
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2016
This is a window into how Trump spends his time. He watches lots and lots of cable television. He uses cable to keep up on every jot and tittle of the presidential race — both on the Republican side and the Democratic side. He gets information and talking points from TV. He keeps track of what his opponents are saying and doing via TV.
Put simply: Cable TV is the one indispensable item of a Trump's candidacy. It sits at the center of his days — and all he does in them.
That's a marked contrast with the repeatedly expressed disdain that President Obama has for cable television. "I thought it might be useful to take a small break from the spectacle of the political season, and now I gather O.J.," Obama said in March at a news event to tout a positive jobs report.
Not all politicians are as openly disdainful of cable news as Obama. Plenty of politicians watch cable regularly and work hard to make sure they appear on their favorite — or any — shows. What's different about Trump is his willingness to admit — on purpose? by accident? somewhere in between? — that he spends lots of time every day watching the boob tube. (It's sort of like polling. All politicians obsess over polls; Trump just talks about it.)
Hillary Clinton and her Democratic allies are trying to use Trump's cable TV obsession against him.
One Clinton ad features this exchange between NBC's "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd and Trump:
Todd: Who do you talk to for military advice right now?
Trump: Well, I watch the shows. I mean, I really see a lot of great — you know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows, and you have the generals.
The argument here is clear: Clinton has a lifetime of service and experience in preparation for the office she is seeking. Trump watches cable TV to get smart.
I wonder, though, whether Trump's obsession with cable — and how he is portrayed on it — hurts him less than Clinton and her Democratic supporters seem to believe. Trump has used cable TV — and Twitter — to insert himself into and then dominate virtually every news cycle. He uses cable as both an early warning sign of stories that are bubbling up — Trump went hard on Debbie Wasserman Schultz amid reports of her political demise on Monday morning — and a bullhorn by which to push out his message.
It's a deeply unconventional and unorthodox strategy. Just like the rest of Trump's campaign.