Donald Trump’s Reality TV Chops Got Him The Nomination & It'll Stop Him From Getting The White House
Donald Trump has spent the past year running for president like it's a reality show. He's not here to make friends. He wins through bombastic moments, quotable insults, and personal intrigue. He is the most interesting character in every scene, and he builds his profile through attention at all costs — it doesn't matter if you love him or love to hate him. Franklin Delano Roosevelt figured out the radio, John F. Kennedy figured out TV, Ronald Reagan mastered movie-star celebrity, and Bill Clinton became president of late-night. But Trump became the Republican nominee through the tactics of reality television.
But while being the Sanjaya of 2016 got Trump farther than anyone could have ever expected, it also is beginning to show the limits of his appeal. When faced in the general election with a politician who is substance over style, Trump is encountering the negative side of trying to reach the White House with tactics from Real Housewives. At Monday night's debate, Trump lost to Hillary Clinton not through being bested at policy by the former secretary of state (though it's worth mentioning that he was also bested at policy), but through reminding America how much he had lowered the bar of politics through his campaign.
But it's the days following the debate that have truly highlighted the problem with campaigning through bombast and personality. Since Monday, news coverage of Trump's campaign has been consumed by a truly reality-show story about Trump fat-shaming Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe. It has brought Trump a series of bad press, but as usual, not through any focus on his policy, but on stories about his personal sexism and rudeness.
Arguably, the two moments in the presidential campaign that hurt Trump most in the polls before now both centered on personal beefs, not grand speeches or issues of policy. He attacked the professionalism of Judge Gonzalo Curiel in May, and he feuded with the Khan family over patriotism in early August.
For the period in September when Trump's polling improved and it seemed like he could just win this (which is, of course, still very possible), it was when he limited his personality, staying restrained in the face of his opponent's health problems. For a little less than a month, he acted more like a respectful politician than the host of The Apprentice.
But after facing a debate opponent who reminded him and America what a properly prepared politician could be, the Trump campaign has returned to the story of a reality TV star trying to get a real job. His campaign's strategy to fight back has not been to pivot to issues that they think Americans care about more, but to respond to attacks on Trump by bringing up Bill Clinton's infidelities.
Trump has been spending a year claiming he would be a good president because he's "not a politician." But in the campaign, it's been the moments where he shows himself to lack the decorum of the office have hurt him most. It's strange to see him hope insulting his opponent for being cheated on will help that.