Since then, Trump has dominated America’s attention. He has worked hard to make sure that’s the case, of course, littering social media with his thoughts and often seizing the reins of traditional media by leveraging his position. His presidency would have been tumultuous even if he’d never tweeted. But that was not the approach he took.
It’s only of late that Trump has receded somewhat from the public eye. His defeat in his reelection bid has at least quieted the president, even if it hasn’t necessarily chastened him. He’s as active as ever on Twitter, dropping dozens of inaccurate claims about the election that Twitter has been assiduously flagging as maybe not quite exactly true. But he’s not interested in being challenged on his various claims, slinking away from microphones anytime reporters have an opportunity to ask questions.
Still, he captures our attention. Since he announced his candidacy, he has been the most-searched political figure on Google month after month. In 2016, Hillary Clinton gave him a run for his money as she seemed poised to seize the presidency. More recently, President-elect Joe Biden has been a focus of a great deal of search attention — but still not as much as Trump.
Trump has also consistently been the subject of more commentary than his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, or either of his opponents in his two presidential campaigns. Data from the Internet Archive processed by GDELT shows that Trump has been mentioned in a greater percentage of the 15-second segments that air on cable networks each month than Obama, Clinton or Biden over and over again.
That includes only explicit mentions of Trump’s name, by the way, and not references to his position. (As in: “The president today said …”)
Another way of looking at the same question comes from the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer, which calculates screen time for public officials. Since Trump announced his candidacy, he has averaged nearly 19 hours of screen time each month across the three largest cable networks. Only this month has Biden surpassed him.
We can look at this dominance another way. Here is the political figure who garners the most search interest, cable news mentions or screen time each month since June 2015. That dark purple, of course, is Trump.
Why didn’t he dominate June 2015? Two reasons. The first is that he didn’t announce his candidacy until halfway through the month. The second is that he didn’t vault into the lead in the Republican primary field until his business partners responded to his anti-immigrant rhetoric by ending their relationships with him. That gave him massive national attention — and a big audience among Republican voters for whom that was a central issue.
What’s important to note is that Trump’s grip on the media has weakened of late. Biden’s victory will probably mean that his share of the public’s attention will increase as Trump returns to the private sector.
But of course, Trump in the private sector will not be quiet. He is likely to announce a 2024 presidential bid in short order so that he can raise money and continue to dominate the Republican political conversation. Biden, by contrast, has pledged a presidency that will concentrate on fading into the background, suggesting that cable news will spend less time yakking about what Biden did and, instead, yak about what Donald Trump just tweeted.
Although even that may be losing its power.