For Trump, it’s an even deeper pattern than that—one that bears examination at a hinge moment for his administration. The relentless decline of “The Apprentice” reflects a splash-and-crash cycle that’s been a hallmark throughout Trump’s life—from his buildings to his casinos to even his brief stint as a sports team owner. His initial successes are often followed by reckless decisions to double down on his bet, just to keep the excitement going—with often disastrous results. “It’s true of everything he goes into,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien said in an interview. “He will hunker down and do something well—and then he thinks he’s Zeus.” And that’s when the trouble starts. “Because he’s not Zeus.”
Nowhere was that clearer than his attempt to goose the ratings for his hit show. Even as its numbers dipped, he insisted it was still on top; he picked fights with critics and blamed others; and maybe most notably, he took on an even bigger role. Rewatching the first season of “The Apprentice,” he is the star—no question about that—but it’s surprising how infrequently he appears; he introduces the tasks, and then mostly vanishes as his teams bicker and compete until the climactic boardroom scenes when he fires somebody. But in the second season, things change. There’s less team, more Trump. He makes more appearances in the middle, and the boardroom scenes are longer. And it’s not only that he’s there more. The volume is turned up. He’s meaner. More performative. There are more soaring shots of his plane. More over-the-top shots of his scowl. It’s hard to quantify, but it’s hard to miss, too.
And now, in the White House? Fueled by a cocktail of attention and unease, Trump’s taking more control, or trying to—dispensing with advisers, ignoring briefings, stoking plot twists and turns, feeding TV as surely as he’s fed by it. Trade wars! Talks with Kim Jong Un! Who’s next to get the ax?