‘Why on Earth would any sane person actually want to be president of the United States?”
I was at lunch recently with an old friend, a longtime television industry executive. He was laying out a complicated but potentially lucrative scenario, in which the current most popular and outspoken figure in American politics, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, drops out of the presidential race to pursue another career path.
“What he needs,” my friend said, “is his own talk show.”
I nodded. My friend is a legendary television producer, a born salesman, with a rat-a-tat-tat speaking style and showman’s delivery right out of old-time show business. I’ve learnt, through experience, not to get in the way of one of his enthusiastic sales monologues.
People like my friend – that is, people who have spent a lifetime in show business – tend to see everything through that lens. Politics, culture, sport, science, religion – to them, all of those things are just extensions of the entertainment industry. There’s no real difference to a true Hollywood veteran between a political leader, a movie star, the Pope and a television chat show host. They’re all just communicators trying to connect to an audience.
"Think about it. Think about it! Who's more influential in this country? The president? Or Jon Stewart (the former host of The Daily Show)? Or even Oprah? You want to really have an effect on the country? You want to change things? Don't waste your time in politics. Don't run for office. Nothing happens in the White House. I'm telling you ..."
He lifted his fork from his salad and began waving it in the air for emphasis. Bits of tomato and cucumber flew off like sparks.
“I’m telling you, we have to get to him and tell him that when he figures out that actually running for president is a seriously expensive and totally boring endeavour, and at the end of it, if you’re successful, then you have to actually be the president, which means everyone hates you and you have zero power to get anything done – well, when he figures that out and drops out of the race, we need to make sure he knows to call us. That we’re waiting. That we’ve got a fantastic deal for him.”
“We?” I asked. I really didn’t notice, in between the flying salad and the rush of the sales pitch, when I had somehow become roped into this scheme.
“I’m assuming,” he said, “that you’re not so stupid as to pass this opportunity up.”
The truth is, I probably am exactly that stupid, but I didn’t want to hear the monologue again – there was already too much food all over the tablecloth – so I just nodded vaguely and asked: “So what are the next steps?”
The next steps, he told me, were to quietly canvass some major advertisers to gauge their interest in sponsoring a daily televised talk show starring Donald Trump to be broadcast in the late afternoons.
A week after our lunch – and a few days after some intemperate and possibly offensive remarks from Mr Trump about women and America’s neighbours to the south – my friend called with the answer.
“Forget it,” he said. “Trump is radioactive. No brands will touch him. He’s offended the one billion people who live south of the border and the one hundred million adult women who live in this country. I called every big advertiser I know. No one’ll touch the guy. Sorry. I guess your idea is dead.”
Somehow it had become – in failure – my idea. That’s why my friend has been such a successful and enduring figure in Hollywood: he knows how and when to assign the credit.
The strange thing is, in the week between our lunch and that phone call, I had come to see the logic of my friend’s plan. Being president of the United States is a pretty thankless job. If you’re coming from a low-level political position it may seem like a terrific career move, but for a billionaire like Donald Trump, sitting behind a desk in the Oval Office, shackled by bureaucratic demands and complicated regulations, unable, thanks to the rules of civil service employment, to give pretty much anyone the sack – well, it’s a steep step down.
And of course we know he loves to talk. So a talk show of his own seems like a perfect compromise. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed to learn that it wasn’t going to happen.
That is, until my friend called me earlier this week. From the enthusiastic tone of his voice I knew that something major had happened.
“Remember my idea? About the Donald Trump Show? Well, it turns out that despite all of the offensive stuff he’s said, he’s still really popular. People like the whole politically incorrect act he’s got going. I’ve had three advertisers call me to take back what they said about him a few weeks ago! This thing is going to happen!”
Suddenly, it was his idea again.
“But it doesn’t look like Trump wants to drop out of the race. In fact, it looks like,” I said, “Donald Trump really wants to be president.”
“Rob,” my friend said with a sigh, “no sane person wants to be president of the United States.”
“I’m not sure we’re saying different things,” I said.
Rob Long is a writer and producer in Hollywood
On Twitter: @rcbl