Donald Trump is not so much a reality TV star-turned-surprise front-runner in the race for the White House, so much as career politician Hillary Clinton has become the improbable semifinalist in this season’s hottest reality TV show.
“This is the ultimate reality show,” Trump strategist and campaign manger Paul Manafort crowed this week to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, about the race and upcoming GOP convention. “Donald Trump understands media. He’s a television star. And he’s connected with America.”
He was stating the obvious to serious students of TV, who had recognized it instantly in Trump’s performance at that first GOP debate in August and his menstrual-themed debate post-mortem. The debate’s ratings did not surprise them particularly, but the “political class” — as TV news political pundits like to sometimes call themselves and the candidates they cover — seem only now to be getting the full picture.
Even so, some of them still are selling tomorrow’s meeting between Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan as a genuine effort on the part of both men to unite the Republican Party. Unity makes for dull reality TV. Conflict and mayhem are the stuff of which hit TV reality shows are made.
Ryan this morning explained the meeting using Washington gobbledygook: “To pretend we’re unified as a party after coming through a very bruising primary, which just ended like a week ago, to pretend we’re unified without actually unifying, then we go into the fall at half strength. This election’s too important to go into an election at half strength. That means we need a real unification of our party. Which, look, after a tough primary, that’s going to take some real effort. We are committed to putting that effort in. I want to be a part of that unifying process, so we’re at full strength this fall so we can win this election.”
Trump, however, swaggered, Celebrity Apprentice boardroom-style, to Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends: “If we make a deal, that’ll be great. And if we don’t, we will trudge forward, like I’ve been doing, and winning all the time.”
The meeting will happen one week after Ryan was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if he would throw his support behind Trump after his blowout win in the Indiana primary, which caused Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich to drop out. “To be perfectly candid with you, Jake, I’m just not ready to do that at this point,” Ryan responded, to Tapper’s surprise. Ryan also said Trump “inherits something very special, that’s very special to a lot of us. This is the party of Lincoln and Reagan and Jack Kemp.”
In response, Trump swaggered some more: “I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda. Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people. They have been treated so badly for so long that it is about time for politicians to put them first!”
“He is not just the titular head, but he is now the head of the Republican Party as far as the voters in the country are concerned,” Manafort translated to MSNBC’s Matthews.
(Trump also spent some time this morning non-apologizing for his crack last July about John McCain not being a war hero because he got captured, explaining to radio host Don Imus, “I like not to regret anything.” He added that McCain is a hero but “after I said that, my poll numbers went up seven points.”)
And yet, TV news talking heads still were talking this morning about Trump, as well as Ryan, “saying all the right things” in advance of tomorrow’s big meeting, citing as proof the fact that Trump has yet to come up with a nasty nickname for Ryan.
Because, of course, he been focused on coming up with one for Bernie Sanders, who’d just beat Clinton in West Virginia:
Trump convention chief Manafort has promised that The Trump GOP Convention in Cleveland will be “exciting.”
“OK, how? What do you do – do you have movies? A reality show of some kind?” MSNBC’s Matthews shot back, like he meant it to sting.
“This is the ultimate reality show,” Manafort responded, not taking the insult. “It’s the presidency of the United States, and so it will be a program where we will be talking to America about, not just Donald Trump, but the Republican Party. And we’ll put it in ways that we hope will be entertaining but, more important, informative.”
Maybe the TV news networks should send fewer former White House correspondents and campaign strategists to cover the clambake and instead bring on Real Housewives expert Andy Cohen for commentary, or soon-to-be former Trump Tower correspondent Keith Olbermann.