Almost every policy Donald Trump has championed is built around Pat Buchanan’s positions on trade, treaties, and immigration. Almost every tactic he’s used to best his competition—controversy, outrage, personal attacks—is borrowed from the repertory of Howard Stern. But by taking Buchanan’s positions, blending them with Stern’s tactics, and adding in his own talent, Trump has managed to produce a success that is all his own.
When Trump started to run, I was as skeptical as anyone else. But as I listened to him in January, I suddenly realized I’d heard this before. I worked at WRC radio in Washington, D.C., when Pat Buchanan first went on the air in the 1970s. Later, I worked at the station carrying Howard Stern. And watching Trump reminds me a great deal of watching their own rise.
Like them, Donald Trump is a broadcasting star—he’s more experienced on television than any of his rivals, and that’s where presidential races are won or lost. The only presidential contender with more television experience than Ronald Reagan is Donald Trump. But broadcasting has changed since Reagan’s days. In order to be a big star in broadcasting today, personalities have to be so polarizing that they are hated as well as loved. Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Chris Matthews all achieved remarkable ratings—and Trump’s presidential campaign has similarly driven cable news ratings through the roof. This willingness and ability to be confident, controversial, and combative can create big ratings, revenues, and salaries.