Troll-fu level: Master. Ever since the first Fox News debate turned into a ratings smash, other networks have been rethinking their revenue strategies. On Friday, the Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie revealed that CNN had hiked their ad rate for the September 16th prime-time debate from $5,000 per 30-second spot to a range of $150,000-200,000 — forty times what they’d normally expect, at the high end.
It’s impossible to dispute that most of the yuuuuuge ratings interest got driven by The Donald. At least, it’s impossible for Donald Trump to deny it, as he has said himself repeatedly ever since. On Saturday, Trump tweeted out a demand for CNN to donate the increased profits to charity:
Now Trump has a more specific idea about where CNN should spend the cash. In a letter to CNN president Jeff Zucker, Trump demands that CNN treat the debate as a “public service” rather than a for-profit operation, and donate the proceeds to “various VETERANS groups, a list of which I will send to you in the near future.”
First, though, Trump “refuse[s] to brag,” and then explains where all the money comes from:
While I refuse to brag, and as you know this very well, this tremendous increase in viewer interest and advertising is due 100% to “Donald J. Trump.” You saw it on The Apprentice where it was virtually the easiest show to sell to advertisers on television, and at extraordinary rates.
But, you know, he refuses to brag. Later in his letter, Trump says that veterans get “treated like like third-class citizens — even worse, in many cases, than illegal immigrants.” Thus, Trump demands the “contribution of many millions of dollars” from CNN to one or more of the groups he will later list.
Needless to say, this is a brilliant stroke by Trump, all kidding aside. In one moment, Trump has cast himself as a populist crusader against excess profits, as a champion of veterans (after his fumble about military prep school), and a leader in holding national media’s feet to the fire. If CNN goes along with this idea, Trump can take credit for the largesse. If they don’t, Trump has a new media target at which to aim for the next few weeks, one that doesn’t attempt to undermine conservative-media allies the eventual nominee will need to combat media bias in a general election.
Now on the flip side, this does have a rather strong whiff of the kind of authoritarianism that runs counter to American conservatism. Since when do conservative politicians make normal business profit a vice? Of course, Republicans tried to defend big-business profits in 2012, and that … didn’t work out very well for them, either. Would a President Trump make similar demands of corporations enjoying short-term profits off of cultural moments? It’s also worth noting that Trump’s had plenty of windfall profits in his life (as he reminds people constantly); how much of that went to veterans groups before his presidential runs in 2011 and 2015?
It’s probably best to look at this as a momentary trolling opportunity rather than a solid indicator of a Trump campaign direction, though — and in that context, it’s yuge. Say what you will about Trump, but he’s not stupid, and he’s having fun while sticking thumbs in the eyes of the establishment on all sides. It’s no wonder that people are having fun with Trump too, even if it may eventually wear off as people start taking the primary choice a little more seriously in the fall.