Trump wonders: What if I demanded that CNN donate $10 million to charity to do their debate?

His participation in the Fox debate surely doubled and maybe even tripled the expected audience. If you’re CNN and he demands $10 million for charity to get him to show up, you say yes.

If you’re CNN and he demands that Wolf Blitzer make fart noises with his armpit for his amusement to get him to show up, you say yes.

And you do this secure in the knowledge that every other Republican candidate onstage wants him at the debate too, no matter how annoyed they might have grown with his shtick, because these opportunities to introduce themselves to huge audiences of people who’d otherwise never watch a political event are pure gold.

As he bids farewell, he has a final thought, something he has been mulling over. It’s about that massive audience for the first Republican debate on Fox News, which he credits almost entirely to himself. On Sept. 16, CNN will host the next debate, under the direction of Jeff Zucker, the man who helped launch Trump’s NBC show, The Apprentice. Trump has no doubt it will be huge.

“Here’s my question: So if I go to CNN and I say, Look, you’re going to have a massive audience, and if I say to them, I want $10 million for charity, nothing for myself, what happens? I’m not showing up, right?” he says. It’s a rhetorical question, the wheels of entrepreneurship are turning, the joy of being Trump dancing on his face. “I’m not showing up unless you give $10 million to cancer, to this, to that. You pick 10 great charities, $1 million per.” He’s not sure just how far the rules of democracy can bend, how big his ambitions can grow. “If I’m in it, they’ll get this crazy audience, and they’re going to make a fortune since they’re selling commercials every time we take a break. Would you ever say to them, would you ever say, I want $10 million for AIDS research, for cancer, for this type or not, or is it too cute?”

Actually, CNN would have to turn that down, I assume, since the debate is ostensibly a news event and not entertainment, right? They’re not hiring Trump to be an actor on a show; they’re covering a discussion of national policy by presidential contenders. If he makes a financial demand and they meet it, they’re admitting that Trump’s candidacy is so valuable to them that they’ll actually pay to keep him front and center in the race, which means they’re really not covering it objectively. But then, the fact that Trump would raise this hypothetical shows why it’s hard to dislike him even if you think he’d be a trainwreck as a public servant. What he’s really doing here is reminding everyone that cable news is mostly spectacle and entertainment and that ratings, as always, are king. The fact that CNN would be forced to turn him down to pretend that none of that is true — ethics come first, surely! — makes the whole idea a sort of inchoate “Magic Christian” prank. See why Trump’s enjoying himself so much? Between stunts like this and those stream-of-consciousness press conferences he’s giving on the trail, he seems to be having more fun than any presidential candidate in modern history. Which, ironically, was supposed to be Jeb Bush’s thing — he was the guy who vowed to run “joyfully,” yet he spent last night in New Hampshire making a low-key, almost half-hearted attack on Trump for not being a conservative. You can barely even hear him in the clip that his team posted. Right around the same time, Trump accused Bush in front of a crowd of reporters of putting his audiences to sleep. And you know, that clip does seem a bit soporific.

Speaking of having fun, do we need to talk about Trump’s photo with the bald eagle for Time magazine? It’s a perfect example of Trump/media symbiosis. I guarantee you, when Time’s editors came up with that idea, they intended it as a goof in the Colbert mold on the idea of Republicans getting googly-eyed over nationalism and its symbols. It’s their sly way of suggesting that Trump is a sort of campier version of Putin, the strong man who’ll tame the country that’s gotten out of control. (Iowahawk imagines Trump as a blend of Qaddafi and Liberace with a little Bernie Sanders thrown in, which is even campier than “campy Putin” would be.) But you can’t shame Trump this way; it’s free publicity even if it’s making a joke at his expense, and some Trump fans will take the image at face value and love him even more for it. He wins and the media wins. That’s the essence of Trump.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on February 01, 2023