OPINION: Trump's high-stakes reality show – The Atlanta Journal Constitution
It’s not hard to imagine that Donald Trump may have been jealous when he saw how much TV airtime was devoted to the leaked interviews Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell, Scott Hall and Kenneth Chesebro gave to Fulton County prosecutors. After all, there’s one fact that both admirers and detractors of the former president of the United States are unlikely to argue about:
Donald Trump loves being on television.
It was the NBC series “The Apprentice” that made Trump a TV star, of course. The show started as a ratings hit but declined precipitously from season to season. Still, many believe “The Apprentice” gave Trump a base of devoted followers that eventually helped propel him to the White House.
Long before “The Apprentice” Trump frequently jumped at invitations to play himself on TV shows and in movies. Who will ever forget his riveting cameos on “The Nanny,” “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” or “Home Alone 2?”
But even as he assumed the presidency, Trump often treated moments in his tenure as TV appearances. He framed his inauguration as if it were a television special, tweeting on his then brand new @potus account: “Wow! Television ratings just out! 31 million people watched the inauguration, 11 million more than the very good ratings from four years ago!”
And in the months that COVID was killing and sickening thousands of Americans, do we think he took center stage away from his public health advisors at White House briefings because he thought that he, like presidents before him, could provide reassuring leadership at a time of national crisis, or was it an opportunity for President Trump to play a starring role in a gripping TV medical drama?
So it’s not surprising that Trump is looking to set the stage for yet another TV star turn.
Late last week, his lawyers sent a letter to the judge presiding over his federal election conspiracy trial informing her that Trump was “demanding” live TV coverage of the proceedings.
The request is likely to be denied because federal criminal proceedings typically don’t permit cameras in the courtroom.
But Fulton County is a different story. Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has already said live coverage of the Georgia election conspiracy trial will be allowed. Trump, no doubt, sees this as good news — an opportunity to attract record ratings even as he continues his run for the White House. (The AJC’s Tia Mitchell has reported that Fani Willis said she expects the RICO trial to play out over the months leading up to the November election and perhaps into early 2025.)
It’s true that as indictments of Trump began to accumulate, they only served to increase his popularity among his base. But when it comes to live courtroom coverage of the criminal case against him he might be careful what he wishes for.
During the trial in Judge McAfee’s courtroom, Trump will become the star of a far different kind of reality show. The cameras will capture prosecutors presenting evidence that he and his co-defendants worked to criminally subvert the democratic process of voting. And in this reality show, Trump will be at the mercy of forces beyond his control.
It’s the jury, of course, that will determine Trump’s legal fate. But the recent AJC poll revealed that more than two-thirds of Georgia voters regard the charges against the former president as serious or very serious, including 39% of Republicans. How will the trial’s TV viewers react to potentially damning testimony against Trump? And what might it mean for his bid for another term as president?
Trump’s famous catchphrase on “The Apprentice” was “You’re fired!” But what happens to his quest for a second term if the slogan that comes out of the Fulton County criminal reality show is “You’re convicted!?”
About the Author
Bill Nigut is a journalist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and co-host of the AJC Politically Georgia live radio show and podcast. He is the former host of GPB's "Political Rewind" program and a former political reporter for WSB-TV.