The media wants to have a close election. Close elections sell. I know this because of my many years as a media strategist. If the election is over too soon, the media loses money and in this election, the media is in full-tilt profit mode. They have a venal self interest in propelling a close election narrative. Consequently, we constantly hear false equivalencies from the media while they propel their "the-race-is-tightening narrative."
In that frame, let’s look at the two campaign strategies that are being played out in the media today. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is undeniably ahead, according to polls and forecasts. For them, the way forward is to follow the words popularly attributed to Napoleon: Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
The Clinton campaign strategy is to work on turnout and not make news. It is smart and, in my opinion, will be victorious on November 8th. But, this strategy will not sell media time or improve the bottom line of media companies.
Media depends on headlines to sell it’s product. And in the case of this election, if there isn’t a headline that works, they will find a way to nudge the narrative to make one. And between the Trump tapes and Wikileaks, they won’t have to work very hard for headlines. The Trump campaign understands that very well. So, Trump makes headlines every day – even when they are unflattering to himself or complete lies. They don’t care as long as they are in the headlines.
And that’s what got me to theorize about the Trump campaign’s current scorched earth end game. Some people in the media think this is just the unraveling of a candidate with no rhyme or reason – just Trump being Trump. But I believe their campaign is very deliberate.
To begin this argument once again I quote Napoleon:
"Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."
As I have said on these pages before, Donald Trump is an attention addict and the media is his dealer. In speculating about his post-election game plan one can’t ignore that fact. Trump is not going to go away quietly and simply retire back to being a rich, golf-playing, businessman. He is going to be a public figure — even more so than before his campaign, when he was a regular fixture in the media for being a reality TV star — not for public service but, because he is addicted to being in the spotlight.
To continue being a public figure one must assess what the audience needs. I theorize that there is a business plan for Trump’s public posture. It can be summed up in three words: make anger pay.
I came upon this theory while watching a town hall with Gov. Mike Pence where as woman in the audience said that she is on social media 24 hours a day and if Hillary Clinton wins this election she is ready to be in the revolution. Then it dawned on me – she is addicted to anger.
Anger is a very powerful passion. It takes energy to propel and, in a perverse way, it gives the hater energy as long as their hateful passion is fueled. Haters are addicts. They're angry. And when the election is over, where will that woman, and the 25 million other Trump social media followers, go for their fix?
That’s why I believe that what we are seeing is not a campaign but a sales plan masquerading as a campaign. Trump is exploiting the last days of the presidential campaign to do what drug dealers have always done; give free samples of product to prospective clients so they’ll come back to you and pay for it after they’ve been hooked.
The last days of the Trump campaign will be the ugliest, I believe, that I will ever see in all of the 15 presidential campaigns I have seen in my lifetime starting when I was 8 years old. Trump is running by attention grabbing headlines. Each new headline-grabbing accusation is not there to get him elected, it’s to get him attention (his drug) and feed his followers hate and anger, which is their drug.
That’s when we’ll see the Trump campaign turn into a media platform/political party/membership club all rolled into one. This is not a new idea. Glenn Beck tried to do it and was successful for a moment, But without his FOX network to promote him, he soon dropped off. Sarah Palin tried to do it and failed because there was no there there. Rush Limbaugh has seen his audience drop in size.
Where will Trump supporters go? I believe that Trump could bring them all together under a Breitbart/alt-right/media/movement banner thereby creating the ultimate conservative media vertical integration.
The Financial Times reported earlier this week that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is married to Ivanka and is the publisher for the New York Observer, met with Aryeh Bourkoff head of a boutique investment firm known for media deals. The meeting was reportedly "brief" and has not moved forward, the Financial Times reported. FT continued:
"However, the approach suggests Mr. Kushner and the Republican candidate himself are thinking about how to capitalise on the populist movement that has sprung up around their campaign in the event of an election defeat to Democrat Hillary Clinton next month. Mr. Trump has in recent days ramped up his criticism of the 'dishonest and distorted' mainstream media, which he accuses of being biased against him in collusion with the Clinton campaign."
Trump's campaign's CEO Stephen Bannon (who stepped down as an excecutive at Breitbart for the Trump campaign) denies that he wants to start a Trump-based media company. “I have no interest in a media company," Bannon told The Washington Post in September. "False rumour." Trump himself has also denied having interest in this idea.
But if such a media venture started, what would it look like? Billionaire Breitbart investor, Robert Mercer, Bannon, and former head of FOX News Roger Ailes, who after the expiration of his non-compete clause, could potentially advise this merging of ultra-conservative voices.
Hypothetically, If 25 million people join this movement and pay $5.99 a month, the subscription fees per year total just under $1.8 billion. And that’s before they sell them any merchandise or sell the data gathered from their online profiles to advertisers. This is a healthy payday to start a media conglomerate. It could also become a viable political platform from which to run future campaigns and candidates.
But all of that supposes that people don’t catch on to the fact that they’re being played. And as Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Joel Silberman is a distinguished media critic, expert, and strategist as well author of the upcoming book "Politics Is Theater With Real Bullets."