Almost three decades ago now, Donald Trump explained his life and worldview this way: “The show is Trump, and it is sold-out performances everywhere.”
Those words, uttered in a 1990 interview with Playboy magazine, are truer today than they were 28 years ago. And they provide a unique insight into how Trump approaches being President on a day-in-and-day-out basis.
- Trump signals that the North Koreans have a secret letter for him that they will bring to the White House on Friday
- He denies firing former FBI Director James Comey because of the Russia investigation — despite his own public statements to the contrary
- He again pushes the idea of some sort of broad-scale spying effort by the FBI on his presidential campaign — despite all evidence to the contrary
- He says he’ll pardon Dinesh D’Souza, the controversial conservative author
- He floats the idea of also pardoning Martha Stewart and commuting the sentence of former Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich
Each and every one of those actions is explained by a simple principle: “The show is Trump, and it is sold-out performances everywhere.”
Even prior to his reality TV stardom in the 2000s, Trump handled his life like a soap opera. Success was being relevant. All press was good press. The only goal, the only way to win, was to stay perpetually not only relevant but also at the center of whatever conversations people were having.
Think about this: Donald Trump created a PR executive named John Miller, who used to call the New York tabloids in the 1980s and tout the virility, success and general appeal of Donald Trump. John Miller was Donald Trump. Donald Trump was John Miller.
The willingness to create a character from whole cloth to talk you up to the tabloids is the sort of thing that wouldn’t occur to most people. Donald Trump is not now and has not ever been “most people.” (On that point, Trump allies and opponents can undoubtedly agree.)
But for Trump, it made perfect sense. He wanted to make sure he was in the mix — that people were talking about him. That he was seen as a hot commodity or at least a commodity.
When Trump won the White House in November 2016, there was some speculation/hope among Republicans (and independents and Democrats as well) that he would change his attention-hogging ways. That the presidency might change him. That the gravity of the office would mitigate some of his worst instincts.
That hope was dashed within hours of Trump taking office. It quickly became apparent that Trump believed that he had won the White House because of his outsized personality, his P.T. Barnum-like self-promotion and his un-PC views — not in spite of those things.
If anything, the White House has exacerbated Trump’s tendency toward turning each and every day into the Trump Show. Why? Because he can.
As a private citizen — even a billionaire TV star who tried like hell to make news or keep himself in the news — Trump had a relatively limited ability to draw attention to himself.
But now he is the most powerful person in the country. He is a prime mover on the world stage. His tweets move markets and alter the calculations of foreign powers. When he says something, everyone pays attention.
This is, in short, the dream of Trump’s life. (And, by the way, the key reason why all the speculation that Trump would leave office voluntarily before his term ends — or even after the end of his first term — misses the mark badly.) He is at the center of it all. The Trump Show is THE show. And it is sold out.
Trump’s only concern at the moment is how to keep the show going. How can he avoid it getting stale — as even the most popular things sometimes do? The answer is simple: Do more and more unpredictable things that draw people back in. Midseason surprises. Cliffhangers. Reversals of fortune.
Thursday had all of those things. And there are going to be lots more days like Thursday before the Trump Show runs its course.