If Donald Trump becomes POTUS you can give The Today Show a lot of credit, or blame, for it. If you turned on the show on any given week over the last year, roughly the amount of time since Trump announced his candidacy, you almost certainly saw a segment with him being interviewed, discussed or profiled. Of course he’s gotten a lot of play from other networks as well, but The Today Show has ridden him like the ratings pony he is and as a result he’s gotten enough free media attention to negate any fundraising or operational advantage that the more traditional candidates enjoyed.
Interestingly, an article in today’s Wall Street Journal points out that a tactic Trump employed in the 90s to save his businesses has morphed into a winning campaign strategy. From the article:
His success at creating a luxury brand stemmed from building his own celebrity as much as Trump Tower’s fine marble. With Ivana, a former model, by his side, he flaunted his flashy lifestyle and surrounded himself with the rich and famous…
Mr. Trump acknowledged his business was “overleveraged” but blamed falling property values for his financial woes. By then, the U.S. economy was in a tailspin and Mr. Trump couldn’t make debt payments…
Mr. Trump didn’t repay his personal debts to the bank group until 1995. But he proclaimed his comeback as early as 1992 to the media. That year, he told New Jersey gaming regulators his net worth was $437 million to $1.6 billion.
His new business model: He could do deals without taking on more debt by selling his brand and marketing skills.
It was a more conservative strategy that foreshadowed a bare-bones primary campaign relying more on free publicity than fundraising and staff. “Having built a great name and a great reputation and a great brand I guess was good,” Mr. Trump said. “And I get very high ratings…That’s a tremendous advantage. No politician ever had that.”
So there you have it. Trump may seem to be a blustering buffoon, but if nothing else he’s proven the value of a brand and he’s literally taking it to the bank. And to TV, which is where The Today Show comes in.
This morning (July 21, 2016) the show ran a segment about how many times Trump has appeared on the show since the early 80s. It was meant as a lighthearted affair, with comments about how much Matt Lauer’s hair had changed while Trump’s hadn’t, but it inadvertently drove home the point that, to date, the show has had as much to do with Trump’s campaign success as anything else. It also can’t be a coincidence that it’s the flagship show of the network that aired Trump’s greatest branding coup, aka The Apprentice.
While it’s not The Today Show’s job to play gatekeeper of the presidency – after all, this is a show that will transition from a serious news story directly to a segment about celebrity hairstyles – it is one of the most watched shows in the country on a daily basis so it provides a seriously influential platform to anyone who appears. You take away Trump’s appearances on the show over the last year and I’m willing to bet his vote count would have been cut by 10% or more. That’s a BHAG (big hairy as guess) on my part, but I’m sure the number would be significant.
What does this mean for the country? In the short term, it means we have the weirdest race for POTUS in modern history. In the long term, not much. There just aren’t the many orange-haired narcissists who have a personal brand they can utilize at a unique point in history when an angry electorate has on the kind of beer goggles that make that kinda guy look attractive.