Donald Trump made an observation during a 2004 interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthew that is rather revealing in light of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s petulant news conference Tuesday.
“Are you being Donald or playing Donald?” asked the “Hardball” anchor about the real estate mogul’s role as the star of “The Apprentice” at the time. “No, I think I’m being Donald. I don‘t think I’m playing at all,” Trump responded. “It is totally unscripted. And it just works. You can’t hide. When you do that much television, you can’t hide from the public. They really get to understand you, as we all understand you, Chris.”
Trump is absolutely right. Unscripted television, like live television, is akin to walking a tightrope without a net. When mistakes and misstatements are made, one’s true character (or lack thereof) is revealed. And Trump’s television-honed skills proved formidable in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. But Trump’s temper tantrum Tuesday against a newly aggressive media showed what happens when an entertainer and showman is not prepared for the demands of the most publicly scrutinized job in the world.
Being president of the United States is not like helming the boardroom on “The Apprentice.” The total-control, crowd-pleasing mien Trump adopted during the primaries worked perfectly when he was one of 17 folks vying for votes for the nomination. His hateful pandering to the extremely angry Republican primary electorate worked like a charm.
But now that Trump is just a convention roll-call vote away from being his party’s nominee and one national election away from potentially winning the Oval Office, the act is as worrisome as it is unsustainable. His harangues against the media for holding him accountable for what he said and did vis-a-vis his fundraising for veterans’ groups showed how unready he is for the “you can’t hide from the public” level of scrutiny and accountability of the presidency.
Trump learned that even the confines of his eponymous tower on Fifth Avenue provide no safety from a press corps that is now covering him with the seriousness befitting someone who could be commander in chief, leader of the free world. It will not be enough for him to say “Believe me!” or complain that the press treats him poorly or to specifically call Tom Llamas, ABC News correspondent and Sunday anchor of “World News Tonight,” a “sleazy guy.” When Trump was asked if he would continue to be hostile to the media once elected, he responded, “Yes, it is going to be like this.” The dangers of this behavior were compellingly argued by The Post editorial board on Wednesday.
Much has changed about the nature of television, the media, the personalities who inhabit both realms and the public’s interaction with all concerned in the 12 years since Trump gave that interview to Matthews. Folks today not only feel they know the people they watch and read about, but they also feel free to tell them exactly what they think of them and what they did or didn’t say. Hell, I and most journalists who write about Trump or anything else submit to more public accountability and scrutiny than Trump would ever deign to allow.
The Donald has used, manipulated and ignored New York City media for decades. He could afford to separate those who have written and said nice things about him from those who didn’t. But the presumptive presidential nominee is suddenly finding out that he won’t be afforded that luxury. And judging by his angry whining, Trump is the only one who didn’t see this day coming. He better get used to it. Whether he likes it or not, things promise to get more intense.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj