What campaign? It may have been all a market study for Trump TV

Trump TV Cartoon image of Donald Trump speaking with his fingers crossed.
Donald Trump duped the GOP into nominating him. Now he may be planning to outfox Fox News.

GOP was duped into providing a national platform for a seedy narcissist who never intended to win


goshawk headerTrump TV. Now it is clear what has been happening. There is no real Trump presidential campaign. If there ever was, it has become just a marketing test – an elaborate focus group, a research technique that tests reaction to a product, service or idea. The group participating in the test is the electorate of the United States of America.

Skeptics have long wondered how Donald Trump could possibly expect to win the presidency, given his relentless antagonism and broad-brush disrespect for so many people. It seemed his presidential campaign might be nothing more than a scam, an elaborate hoax, or an example of a vain egotist who grabbed the proverbial tiger by the tail and was afraid to let go.

Intentions in doubt

By September 2015 it had become evident that “presidential candidate” Trump really did not want the job. He was resolutely going out of his way to anger, insult or alienate as many people as possible, as if to assure defeat.

Some six months later, Stephanie Cegielski, a strategist for the Make America Great Again super PAC, quit her job and confirmed that Trump had originally embarked on his campaign as some sort of protest. Neither he nor his closest advisers ever seriously expected he would be the GOP nominee.

But things happened. Like some real-life Max Bialystock, the protagonist of the 1968 movie “The Producers” who tried desperately to produce a flop musical, only to be thwarted at every turn by success, every time Trump tried to go lower, his poll numbers went up.

The more scurrilous Trump was, the louder his audiences cheered. When, in a chilling echo of Berlin 1932, he exhorted them to violence, time and again they eagerly obliged.

A revelation

Trump at first seemed incredulous and amazed by the deep vein of supercilious chauvinism he had tapped into. His followers openly identified with a perniciously aggressive form of selfish, exaggerated nationalistic patriotism, and really did believe themselves to be superior to everyone else.

He recognized the opportunity. So began the Cult of Trump.

Trump subtly shifted from being a presidential candidate to being the smirking, strutting smartest-guy-in-the-room who deftly hijacked the GOP nomination and converted the bully pulpit to his own purposes.

In his private thoughts he realistically gave up seriously trying to win and began to probe the boundaries of acceptability – seeing how far his newfound base was willing to allow him to go in insulting anyone and everyone.

Player on the national stage
Composite image of Donald Trump and Roger Ailes.
Donald Trump and Roger Ailes.

Donald Trump has long fancied himself a player on the national political stage and has never been shy about seeking favors. But his flirtations with public office have always come to naught, owing mainly to his deeply flawed personality.

He will never see that, though. In the narcissistic Trump mind, the reason for his serial failures – political, financial and setbacks in other aspects of life – has always been that the system was rigged against him.

What the faltering casino magnate needed was his own system, one where the rules heavily favored the house, a system he could rig, control and manipulate. The opening he needed arrived with the abrupt and spectacular downfall of Fox News creator Roger Ailes.

Filling a void

Despite giving him more than a year of free publicity, the media (including sycophantic and increasingly wussy Fox) was never enough of a cheerleader.

With disarrayed Fox stumbling in the wake of the seismic shift that toppled the serial sexual predator Ailes, a window had opened; a partial political vacuum had been created that he might be able to fill. Trump TV would outfox Fox News!

Trump TV is born

Enter Trump TV – a television network that will have him calling the shots. As a former reality TV star, the tax-dodging, woman-abusing real estate mogul would finally have a reliably doting venue.

Trump cozied up to Ailes, who, for a time at least, happily came on board as a high-profile adviser. The once highly public Trump-Ailes bromance seems to have cooled somewhat. This is no great surprise considering that one of the strings on Ailes’ golden parachute, provided when Rupert Murdoch fired him, was a non-compete clause.  A discreetly lower profile might avoid legal problems down the road.

Trump has attracted a wealth of other talent to help form his TV alternative to Fox, and has not hesitated to incorporate them into his “campaign.”

His campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, is a ruthless political arsonist who recently led the attack-dog media outlet Breitbart.

Trump also has close relationships with a Star Wars Cantina assortment of like-minded talking-head conspiracy wackos – for example, Alex Jones (the government is controlling the weather), Rush Limbaugh (Al Qaeda gave up Bin Laden to make Obama look good), Roger Stone (the moon landings were faked) and Sean Hannity (Everything conspiracy theorists have said is true).

Trump cultists love this sort of thing; they eagerly lap it up. Throw in ginned-up outrage over whatever might be the cause of the day, rabid screeds about border walls, purple-veined defenses of the Second Amendment, images of fleets of black helicopters descending to invade Texas, Trumped-up beauty pageants, tales of sinister crop circles and some chupacabra sightings and you have reached a sizable audience of low-information and willingly ignorant folks who will be hanging on your every word.

Wearing out his welcome

Trump’s campaign-trail ranting finally reached the point of diminishing returns. While his base numbers held steady, the inflammatory rhetoric finally began to frighten mainstream America. Trump’s poll numbers plummeted, sending his candidacy into an unrecoverable graveyard spin.

By then it no longer mattered. His market research was complete. Donald Trump the braggart, race-baiter, bully, misogynist, bigot … you name it … now has a pretty good idea of what he can get away with and still maintain brand loyalty. He has accurately gauged the size, preferences and demographics of the target Trump TV audience.

Waters remain roiled

The decisive defeat of Donald Trump, historic and welcome as it may be, will not put an end to the sort of angry, deranged, uncivil politics that propelled him to notoriety. Far from it.

The momentum of his run (don’t call it failure because it seems to have been calculated to fail; indeed it may have been quite successful) may carry the politics of misogyny, suspicion, bigotry and hate to new high-profile and lucrative heights.

And the so-called mainstream media – the attention-driven lap dog corporate infotainment peddlers who perpetuated the phony political horse-race narrative as they sopped up audience shares and page views and advertising revenues by pandering  to Trump’s recklessness and fueling his rise, will happily continue to abet him.

Do not expect the Cult of Trump to fade from view anytime soon.

Michael W. Dominowski is the editor of Not For Hire Media