For those journalists wondering why they never received screeners to Showtime’s The Circus: Inside The Greatest Political Show On Earth, it’s because the series is still in the can. Keep in mind, The Circus debuts this Sunday, January 17. When it comes to its production schedule, the show lenses until Friday, before making a quick edit turnaround to air on Sunday.
Tonight, The Circus documentary team of political adviser Mark McKinnon and Game Change authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann are leaving Pasadena to board a plane to Miami. They’re meeting up with Donald Trump, who’ll be one of the first of three candidates featured in Episode 1, along with Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Bernie Sanders.
“We woke up in New Hampshire today and spent time with Bernie Sanders and his wife,” said Halperin.
Circus not only pulls back the curtain on those hitting the campaign trail, it also shines a light on their handlers, the reporters following them, even their families. “There’s a constellation of characters that are fascinating,” McKinnon said at this afternoon’s TCA session.
And of course, if you’re going to point the finger at the revolutionary for this year’s election, it’s GOP front-runner Trump. In fact, one takeaway the trio spoke about at today’s TCA: Those voters who have Trump as their first presidential choice have Sanders as their second. The two candidates’ supporters coincide.
Nonetheless, Trump’s presence during this year’s election speaks to a larger shift in the political machine.
“The biggest difference is Donald Trump — it’s dominating how people think about the cycle,” said Halperin. “He’s done very little paid media and a lot of traditional media. But in terms of social media and late-night, there’s incremental differences. The only thing that’s fundamentally different is what Trump has done. Win or lose, I think people will write Ph.D. dissertations about it one day. … And it’s that free earned media that’s worth more than the ads.”
Asked whether he thinks Trump will win, McKinnon said: “American democracy is the result of the ultimate will of the people, and the will of the people is very good. For whatever reason why, every political cycle, we throw conventional wisdom out the window. This election is showing once again, it’s a new day. That’s why (this election) is fascinating.”
Even though the candidates will continues to spend on paid ads (they have to put their donations somewhere per the TCA panel), alternative routes of campaigning, i.e. late night talk shows, podcasts, web series (Between Two Ferns, etc.) are becoming de rigueur versus Sunday AM talk shows. “Voters view those non-traditional formats as much more human,” said McKinnon. The quandary in this election for some campaign managers is that the Sunday AM political shows don’t necessarily show the best side of the candidate. In fact, some even question their worth when vying to reaching a voting base.
The trio kept largely mum when prognosticating, only to say what many already know: That the Iowa caucus is a runoff between Trump and Cruz on the Republican side and Sanders and Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side.
When asked whether they’d be scared if Trump ultimately wins the U.S. Presidency, Heilemann answered, “He doesn’t scare me.”