Trump would rather be a star than president

When Donald Trump was selecting a running-mate, he sent his son, Donald Jr., to a top aide to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio with an interesting offer. If he agreed to serve and the Trump-Kasich team was elected, Kasich would be in charge of both foreign policy and domestic policy. Incredulous, the aide asked what would be left for President Trump to do?

“Make America great again,” Donald Jr. responded with a smile.

I was in Cleveland when that story broke, covering the Republican National Convention. I remember thinking Trump must have no interest in being president. He wants to win, of course, but the job itself holds little attraction. I wondered - and not for the first time - what does Trump really want?

By the convention, it was already clear that Trump wasn’t doing the things he needed to do to win. He had had six weeks to unite the party behind him, prepare a blockbuster show for Cleveland and mobilize for a national campaign. He’d need some new material, because the lines that drew cheers from Republican primary voters wouldn’t draw in the independent voters he would need in the fall. He needed to learn about the issues. He needed advisers with stature and experience running national campaigns.

But he did none of those things.

Establishment Republicans wanted to get on the Trump train, but he kept saying things to push them off. Trump doesn’t like fund-raising or organizing, so he left the nuts-and-bolts of getting out the vote to the party establishment he had alienated. That includes, for example, Kasich, the most important Republican in the most important battleground state, who has rejected Trump and seems likely to sit on his hands on Election Day.

Trump has surrounded himself with sycophants and true believers, and he doesn’t even take advice from them. On the day of the third debate, both his vice-presidential pick and his daughter Ivanka showed him how to answer the question he was sure to get about whether he would respect the election results. He gave the wrong answer anyway, guaranteeing several days of bad press and more hand-wringing by establishment Republicans over endangered GOP candidates in down-ballot races.

Some of this is just Trump’s personality - he wants the spotlight to always be on him, so he acts out. He’s stubborn, undisciplined, unwilling to study the issues or rehearse his lines. He’s incurious, uninformed and he doesn’t care what happens to down-ballot Republicans.

So what does he care about?

For Trump, politics is performance. He loves his rallies, loves hearing the crowd cheer their favorite lines: “Build the wall!” “Lock her up!” “The election is rigged!” It doesn’t matter if they make no sense as public policy, or if they are offensive to the core principles of democracy. He’s an entertainer, not a politician, and he certainly has no interest in being a bureaucrat, even one with a nice Oval Office.

My sense is that Trump would rather be a star than be president. After all, as he told Billy Bush, “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Family members are signaling as much. This week, Donald Jr. said running for the presidency was “a step down” for his dad. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly met recently with investors about a plan to launch a Trump media network after the election.

Trump’s campaign is starting to look like he had that in mind all along. Its CEO is Steve Bannon, the former chief of Breitbart News, the Internet voice of the alt-right movement. A top Trump adviser is Roger Ailes, the man who created Fox News, and who was dumped by the Murdoch gang earlier this year amid accusations of the kind of sexual misconduct Trump thinks stars are entitled to pursue.

I’ve long believed Trump launched his presidential campaign as a way to build up his brand, and never expected to win the nomination. He chose to deepen the loyalty of his base rather than dilute his appeal to draw swing voters because, while the base isn’t big enough to get him elected president, it’s plenty big enough to support a cable TV enterprise.

I can see it now: Ailes lures Trump ally Sean Hannity over from Fox. Ivanka gets her own show. Donald brings back “The Celebrity Apprentice,” and wins those Emmys stolen from him in a rigged election. Bannon, who has been gunning for House Speaker Paul Ryan for at least a year, could use Trump’s network to continue the hostile takeover of the GOP.

Trump has always been in this for himself. He copyrighted “Make America Great Again” within days of Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012. I’m willing to bet he’s also copyrighted the name “Trump News Network.”

 

Rick Holmes, Daily News opinion editor, can be reached at rholmes@wickedlocal.com. Like him on Facebook at Holmes & Co, and follow him @HolmesAndCo.