Trump Returns to Celebrity Status
Trump spent most of his career being a celebrity businessman. In many ways, his businesses were only the means to achieve celebrity status. He was – prior to running for President – the most famous name in business. He parlayed that into entertainment with forays into the glamour businesses – casinos and beauty pageants, fashions, and beverages. Finally, he created “The Apprentice”, staring … himself.
He created the Trump brand – combining “The life of the Rich and Famous” with a Hugh Hefner salaciousness. He reinforced that image when he purchased the old Marjorie Merriweather Post mansion in Florida – Mar-a-Lago.
You would have had to look closely at his history to have seen his presidential ambitions – but they were there for years. He floated the idea of running for the White House for at least a decade before he came down the escalator. In the few interviewers who broached the subject back then, Trump gave surprisingly similar knee-jerk answers as he did in 2016 and today. But the general impression was that those earlier reports were more to fuel publicity than a serious plan to seek the highest office in the land.
That changed in 2016, when Trump actually entered the presidential race. Even then, it was viewed by many as a publicity stunt. It seemed he had little chance of being more than a controversial platform debater. Even Trump insiders were saying that he never really considered winning the presidency.
Early in the campaign, the Huffington Post refused to cover Trump from a political perspective. The left-wing online news platform assigned him to their entertainment reporters. It was only after Trump started winning GOP primary elections that the Post performed a journalistic mea culpa by reassigning Trump to the political beat.
When Trump secured the Republican nomination, many pundits and observers said he would transition to a more traditional presidential style – shedding his belligerent and pugnacious personality. However, what the American public saw throughout the campaign was the same old celebrity Trump.
For a lot of unique technical reasons – divided opposition and the nature of the Electoral College – Trump became the 45th President of the United States. He was not the popular choice. It was arguably the most surprising upset in American presidential history. Again, pundits and observers suggest that Trump would – as President — transition into a more familiar presidential demeanor. Not so.
For the four years of his presidency – and the two years since – Trump has maintained his egocentric celebrity personality even as he remained a person with political power and influence. That political power and influence has been ebbing from the time he got elected. Under his leadership, the GOP suffered a serious defeat in 2018 – losing the House by a wide margin. In 2020, he not only lost his bid for re-election (regardless of what people think of the election), the GOP lost the Senate and barely flipped the House. Most damaging to Trump’s political power was the almost universal defeat of his key endorsed candidates.
Trump’s only claim to political power was perception based on polls that appeared to show him having a tight grip on the Republican Party – a narrative that both he and the Democrats advanced for their own reasons and which I consistently rejected.
Trump’s mounting legal problems and his irrational behavior — such as hosting racist and anti-Semitic personalities, his suggestion that the Constitution should be set aside and then there was those trading cards – have taken an enormous toll on his political capital. His chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 – and winning the election – are somewhere between remote to nil.
There will be a small fraction of voters who will cling to their loyalty to Trump as their personal political savior – but not enough to make him a dominant political force in the future.
With that being said, it seems that Trump’s claim to fame rests largely on his celebrity status. Judging from his behavior, I think he knows that. Even his announced candidacy seems like a theatrical production more than a serious run for re-election.
Those who seek or hope to maintain celebrity status often tend to engage in outrageous attention-getting behavior. They say and do things to keep the public spotlight on themselves – whether the public reaction is positive or negative.
It would be unfair to say that Trump has not accomplished a number of very good things for the American people. To say that he has been treated unfairly and maliciously by the Democrats and the media – regardless of his shortcomings — is an understatement. However, whether you judge his business career, his entertainment activities or his political career, it is his desire for celebrity that has been the common thread.
It is time to stop thinking of Trump in political terms. Some talk about Trump being in the rearview mirror of politics. For the most part, he is not in the political mirror at all. Trump has more than enough issues and talent to keep himself in the public eye. But only as a celebrity – and that is how we should think of him going forward.
So, there ‘tis.