Only Trump, who can be on the air on any cable news network he wants for however long he wants at a moment’s notice, could conclude that he doesn’t have enough media exposure as-is and might need to start his own channel to meet public demand.
I think this is a smart idea, though — assuming the story’s true. Some Trumpers on social media are sneering that only a fool would believe what a left-wing rag like Vanity Fair has to say about Trump. Fair enough. It’s possible that the story was fed to VF by enemies of his who are looking to cause a rift between him and his bigwig buddies in the media food chain. If Jeff Zucker and (especially) Roger Ailes think Trump’s quietly plotting to jump into their line of work and start siphoning off market share, they might turn on him harshly. Even so, I think it’s a no-brainer that Trump would try to capitalize financially on his new political and cultural currency if he loses this fall. His real-estate record has highlights and lowlights but nearly everyone concedes that he’s a master of media. It’s his true talent. And if we end up with President Hillary, a Trump-led news outfit would have a stronger claim to be the true voice of America’s right-wing opposition than Fox News would. There’s no denying that the guy has captured the imagination of Republican populists, even if that ends up leaving him stuck in November with 45 percent of the vote. A buzzworthy media venture that gives him a pipeline to that constituency and a platform to remain a major player in politics seems like an obvious possibility for his next move.
Trump is indeed considering creating his own media business, built on the audience that has supported him thus far in his bid to become the next president of the United States. According to several people briefed on the discussions, the presumptive Republican nominee is examining the opportunity presented by the “audience” currently supporting him. He has also discussed the possibility of launching a “mini-media conglomerate” outside of his existing TV-production business, Trump Productions LLC. He has, according to one of these people, enlisted the consultation of his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who owns the The New York Observer. Trump’s rationale, according to this person, is that, “win or lose, we are onto something here. We’ve triggered a base of the population that hasn’t had a voice in a long time.” For his part, Kushner was heard at a New York dinner party saying that “the people here don’t understand what I’m seeing. You go to these arenas and people go crazy for him.” (Both Kushner and Ivanka Trump did not respond to a request for comment.)
Trump, this person close to the matter suggests, has become irked by his ability to create revenue for other media organizations without being able to take a cut himself. Such a situation “brings him to the conclusion that he has the business acumen and the ratings for his own network.” Trump has “gotten the bug,” according to this person. “So now he wants to figure out if he can monetize it.”…
Love him or despise him, Trump indisputably has the finger on the pulse of his audience. And this connection could certainly facilitate such a hypothetical mini-media conglomerate. “Even old Fox News didn’t have the right read on what the base is,” one person briefed on the conversation told me. “And we do.”
That’s true about Fox not having a perfect read on the base. For years, conservative populists have grumbled that it’s too centrist politically, especially in its coverage of immigration. It’d be a perfect ending to this miserable election cycle if a serious new right-wing competitor launched — and it turned out to be even more centrist, per Trump’s proclivities, rather than oriented towards movement conservatives.
Two obvious questions about the potential for “Trump News.” One is simple: How many Trump fans want to spend hours each day and night watching less charismatic nationalists delivering the Trumpist message? Who’s tuning in to “Coffee Talk with Jeff Sessions” or some populist version of “Outnumbered” with Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, and Laura Ingraham? Trumpmania seems to be highly specific to Trump himself, in which case building out an entire network for him seems like overkill. He’s better off negotiating for his own show on one of the existing cable channels or starting some daily subscription program online. Which brings us to question two: If he’s intent on building a network, how would he go about it? The guy’s seemingly unwilling to drop $500 million of his own fortune to become leader of the free world. That being so, it’s hard to imagine him shelling out to build a cable news network from the ground up. It’d be cheaper, I’m sure, to launch an online network, as Glenn Beck did with The Blaze by turning that website into a TV outfit. Trump could conceivably reach some arrangement with Breitbart to do the same thing. Whether that would be profitable, though, given that conservative audiences skew older and older people are less inclined to seek out programming online, I don’t know.
If he’s dead set on having a cable presence, the obvious move would be to approach One America News Network and try to arrange something with them. (It even has “America” in the name! Make One America News Great Again.) They’ve been trying for years to get traction as a conservative alternative to Fox. Bringing Trump aboard, giving him an hour each day to talk about whatever, and adopting a more explicitly nationalist take in its news coverage would easily be the most serious threat they’ve ever mustered to FNC. Imagine Trump repaying Ailes for years of fluffy coverage by waltzing over to Fox’s fledgling conservative rival and planting his flag there. It’d be high-larious. Maybe he’d even talk Hannity into coming with him. Problem, though: How’s he going to get ads to sustain it? He’s so toxic right now that corporate sponsors have been declining RNC sponsorship this year for fear of a consumer backlash to their association with Trump. If the Trump brand is radioactive to American business in 2017, an ad-supported cable channel is obviously a non-starter.
This is the sort of thing you need to be thinking about, though, if you’re serious about building a discrete nationalist constituency on the right. If there’s no Trumpist candidate in 2020, or (more likely) if there’s a Trumpist who’s not nearly as charismatic as Trump and he never gains momentum, lots of Trump voters this time will revert to whichever mainstream Republican looks like they can give the left a run for its money in the general election. An enduring nationalist movement requires institution-building. A news channel dedicated to that mission with a big face out in front is one obvious place to start.