This week in September 2016, I wrote a report headlined “Confirmed by Trump insider: 'Trump TV' is Plan B after election.”
Four years later, but not confirmed by any “Trump insiders,” the same conclusion seems appropriate for similar reasons — it makes both good business and political sense for Donald Trump to launch a “Trump TV” media venture should he suffer a reelection defeat. It’s an assessment based on the president’s narrow path to winning 270 electoral votes, which grows statistically more daunting by the day.
(Cue “There you go again” -- Ronald Reagan’s iconic pronouncement from his October 1980 debate with President Jimmy Carter.)
Briefly, here are two key reasons to dust off and update “Trump TV as Plan B.”
First, students of politics know the phrase “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.” It’s a well-deserved maxim, since the 1960 presidential election was the last time Ohio did not vote for the winning candidate.
In 2016, Trump won the Buckeye state and its 18 electoral votes by a whopping margin of 8.1 percentage points — seemingly securing a “safe” spot atop the 2020 red-state column. Instead, the current Ohio RealClearPolitics poll average has Joe Biden leading Trump by 2.4 percentage points, a statistical tie bringing the state back to its traditional battleground status. Despite scant media attention, Trump’s Ohio slippage is an ominous sign.
Second, RCP’s Electoral College map is a reality check for Team Trump, where Biden is credited with 212 votes, either “solid” or “leaning,” compared to Trump’s 115. Remaining, and spread among 16 states — several of them traditionally reliably “red” — are 211 electoral “toss-up” votes. Biden needs to win only 58 to reach 270 and remove “vice” from his former title. Conversely, Trump must draw the political equivalent of a royal straight flush in poker to win 155 out of the 211 remaining votes to reach 270. Not favorable odds for an incumbent.
However, the president could eventually “win” by losing should he launch Trump TV on popular delivery platforms with a wide range of programming. Here is a concept paper for such a venture:
In 2016, Trump earned 62.9 million “popular” votes. For our purposes, let’s assume he wins close to that number in November, so even 10% of it would account for a potentially substantial audience.
By comparison, according to the Fox News Channel, in August “Hannity” was “the most-watched show on cable news, averaging 4.7 million viewers for the show’s best month ever.” In second place was “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” averaging 4.4 million viewers. Therefore, it is plausible that Trump TV programming, geared to his loyal base, could easily compete with the most popular Fox prime-time shows.
Currently, Trump TV (not labeled as such) is already operating with show production values rivaling cable television while hosted on the campaign’s official website. Campaign events are live-streamed and in-person ticket registration is offered. (Similar to the arena rallies of old, these events are primarily used to gather voter contact information.)
If Trump loses, he and his family could stay politically relevant and ripe for a comeback by offering counter-programming to the Biden administration. “His family” is the operative phrase. Ivanka, currently a White House senior adviser, also courts the limelight with a domestic lifestyle brand rivaling Kim Kardashian’s, while Don Jr. appears to have caught “Potomac Fever.” In an extensive August profile, the New York Times Magazine requoted him saying, “It’s sort of cool if you’re at a stadium of 15,000 people and they start chanting ‘46’ when you’re speaking.” (Donald Trump is the 45th president.)
Speaking of the Kardashians, it was widely reported this week that after 14 years and 20 seasons, their reality show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” is ending in early 2021. What fortunate timing for launching the Trump TV network’s first reality show. (My suggested working title: “Keeping Up With Trump’s America.”)
Mirroring the Kardashians are the Trump family’s “star” spouses. First and foremost is Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner. History could view him, at age 39, as the second most powerful man in Washington, and perhaps the world, during the Trump administration. How then, does he go back to being a run-of-the-mill NYC real estate developer/socialite after spending four years as the de facto White House chief of staff; secretary of state; head of domestic and legislative policy; pandemic CEO; Middle East peace envoy; the Trump campaign’s 2016/2020 chairman; and most trusted adviser to the president of the United States?
Henceforth, Jared’s new perch could be as president of the Trump TV Entertainment/ Lifestyle Brand/Data Services/News Network and Make America Trump political party. (His father-in-law would be CEO.) Jared could manage and exploit Trumpism to foster a political dynasty well into the 21st century. (Trump has 10 grandkids.)
Ready to assume a leading role on Trump TV is Don Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, currently head of major donor fundraising for the reelection campaign. She is already a seasoned television personality after spending 12 years on air at Fox News. (A made for Trump TV subplot involves Guilfoyle’s ex-husband Gavin Newsom. He is currently the governor of California and is believed to have national political ambitions, so one can imagine a Gavin vs. Don Jr. presidential race.)
Another telegenic Trump spouse is Lara, wife of Eric. She also comes to the family from television, where from 2012 to 2016 she was a story coordinator and producer for the CBS news magazine "Inside Edition." Lara Trump’s title is senior adviser to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. She is also a campaign media surrogate, often seen promoting her father-in-law on Fox News.
Once the family is decoupled from the White House, a Trump TV enterprise offers the perfect opportunity to reposition and reload for whatever comes next. But what platform could be acquired? Since the Fox News Channel is so successful and not for sale, I suggest two conservative network options.
First is One America News Network. Although OANN attracts a small audience to the right of Fox, President Trump is its No. 1 fan. At times, he has unabashedly promoted the fledgling outlet when Fox has not supported him 100%. Now there is much talk about a rift between Trump and Fox owner Rupert Murdoch, with Trump making accusations of “unfair treatment” and how the network is “going rogue.”
Second is NewsmaxTV, owned and led by Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend. Maybe for the right price, Newsmax TV could be rebranded as Trump TV? Or, at the very least, host some pilot programming?
But does Trump TV really need a cable network? If millions of MAGA supporters are already clicking DonaldJTrump.com — the campaign’s official URL — then after the election, the site can be repositioned into the family’s all-encompassing platform.
Trump TV offers endless programming possibilities, starting with polishing the 45th commander-in-chief’s legacy while he builds his presidential library. (“Buy your personalized gold-plated MAGA bricks now!”) Moreover, international/domestic lifestyle/travel/golf/spa/real estate programming will help rebuild, promote, and sustain what was formerly a lucrative revenue stream: licensing the Trump name.
Non-political family-specific programming could include Melania hosting a modeling and fashion design show called “Be Best Dressed.” Ivanka could make cameo appearances on every show every day, no matter the topic, but she and her children might star in their own series, “Size Four Mother of Three.” Barron, now a tall, handsome teenager and a magnet for young ladies, might emcee video game championships at Trump hotels around the world.
(Another lineup possibility: Roger Stone as host of a dirty-tricks game show titled “Pardon Me!”)
The former president could continue his regular schedule — chatting up friends and loyal supporters while touring and playing his golf courses, all presented on-air. Between swings, he would surely remind viewers of his greatest presidential achievements that Biden is now dismantling.
For “news” purposes, the former president could hint at a 2024 comeback, unless he passes the torch to the next generation. They, in turn, will battle it out for the nomination, driving up ratings on “Keeping Up With Trump’s America” — which by that time is a hit reality show — proving that losing the White House means winning prime time. But, since we all know that Trumps never lose, stay tuned.