Trump’s Exit Strategy
I’ve said from the beginning that Donald Trump isn’t running a political campaign; he’s running a business campaign. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was his exit strategy.
Fair enough: I didn’t expect Trump to win the Republican nomination. I forgot what I learned during the 2012 campaign, which is that the Republican Party is “intellectually and politically bankrupt.” The GOP lacked the resources to stop Trump’s hostile takeover.
But I remain convinced that the last thing Trump wants is to live under the constraints of the presidency. When Trump picked running mate Mike Pence, I thought his exit strategy might be to get elected, issue a bunch of executive orders for a few weeks, and resign.
But this week’s events suggest a different exit strategy. Trump may be an idiot, but he isn’t stupid. He knows his polls have tanked, and he knows it’s because of his bomb-throwing provocations. Yet he shakes up his campaign in a way that says out loud that he wants to continue with the provocations.
Trump’s new campaign chairman is Steve Bannon, bomb-thrower extraordinaire. Bannon excels at destructive, anti-establishment, fact-free rhetoric, shows a special fondness for conspiracy theories, hates the Republican Party establishment, and adores Donald Trump. One thing we can be pretty sure he has no aptitude for is running a successful national political campaign.
Trump’s new debate prep adviser is Roger Ailes, disgraced exile from Fox News. As the founding CEO at Fox, Ailes built the most popular cable news network and a hugely profitable enterprise. Ailes made Fox News one of the most, if not the most, politically influential media organization in American history. Although Ailes worked as a political consultant before going to Fox, there is no particular reason to believe that he is especially skilled at advising presidential candidates in debate tactics.
Trump has already laid the foundation for his post-defeat career with his claim that the election will be “rigged,” and his bizarre assertion that “the only way” he could lose the vote in Pennsylvania is if “they cheat.”
As a birther, Trump spent a lot of time and energy attacking the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency. As a rigged election “truther,” Trump will spend even more time and energy attacking the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s presidency. Although the media eagerly gave Trump’s birther rantings plenty of play, the bottomless pit of need for attention that is Trump’s narcissism would be better fulfilled if Trump had his own platform, rather than having to rely on media outlets he doesn’t control.
For varying reasons, Trump, Bannon and Ailes would no doubt love to launch a competitor to Fox News. For Trump, controlling his own media platform would serve his insatiable need for validation, both in the form of attention to him personally and in the form of business success.
Although Trump claims to be worth $10 billion, based on his supposed business genius, the hallmarks of his business career are not profit-making successes, but clever bankruptcies, stubborn litigation, and quixotic failures like Trump University. Fortune magazine, among others, calculates that Trump would have done better by taking his inheritance and investing it in S&P index fund.
Politically, Trump has a relatively small but intensely loyal following. You can’t win a presidential election with a few million loyal voters, but you can build one heck of a media network with a few million loyal readers, listeners and viewers. Fox makes billions; Trump pretends he’s made billions, but would no doubt prefer the real thing.
Controlling a media outlet would give Trump the platform he needs to continue his white nationalist movement and the freedom he wants to continue his bomb-throwing. Ailes is not known for his concern for objectivity, and Bannon is not known for his concern for facts. Trump cares about neither. Trump will spend the next four years tearing at the Clinton Administration and the Republican Party.
In other words, Trump’s defeat on November 8 isn’t the end of the nightmare.