ShareBlue's Eric Boehlert knocks Donald Trump where he lives: his political rallies are stale and boring and that's why even Fox News stopped airing them.
October 14, 2018

Ooof, this one has to smart where he lives.

The one form of intelligence that is fair to credit to Donald Trump is his canniness in knowing how to be a showman. There's not a lot of substance behind it, nor is it entirely clear that he's even cognizant of how contradictory his statements can be to the carefully crafted talking points his White House staff put together (I think there's a stronger argument to be made that he just spouts things extemporaneoulsy to play to the crowd and then the White House staffers have to scramble to reverse-engineer policies behind it), but he does know how to call attention to himself.

During the interminable 2016 election run up, it absolutely worked to his advantage. He deprived all primary challengers as well as Hillary Clinton in the general of any oxygen for actual policy discussions with the media's endless coverage of his rallies. They were unlike anything anyone had ever seen in memory, and they brought in the ratings. CNN's Jeff Zucker famously admitted that his rallies were probably a "mistake" but "Trump delivered on PR, he delivered on big ratings.”

That was then. This is now. As ShareBlue's Eric Boehlert points out, Trump just isn't getting the airtime he's used to, not even on his favorite channel.

"This is a business. It has to be entertaining. You have to have a draw. You mentioned after the Politico article, he calls in to Fox News, you know, 11:00 at night. He calls back the next morning for a 45-minute rambling interview. At the end of the interview, the host says, 'Shouldn't you be running the country at this point?'

It's not good for business, right? He's not providing anything new. He's producing just redundant programming and for Fox News, for instance, you know, these are hour-long rallies in primetime. They can't run any ads. You do that once or twice as a favor to Trump, that's fine. You do that six or seven times a month, you're going to lose tens of millions of dollars and he's not producing any bump."

In other words, he's boring. His rallies are the same things over and over and over again, and it's not worth losing all those advertising dollars for his dwindling base. It's not worth the griping from the rest of the country who are tired of the coverage or who accuse the media outlets of hurting the nation. Baltimore Sun television critic David Zurawcik suggests that Trump's relentless campaign into delegitimizing the Fourth Estate may have played into the collective blackout of his rallies.

I was surprised when I tuned into [the July 5th Great Falls, Montana] rally after it had started to find it only on a Fox channel. That’s a change from the days when all the cable news channels were so dialed into Trump that they would show an empty podium at which he was scheduled to appear — sometimes with a countdown clock in the corner of the screen.

But more telling to me was the extreme tone he took in that appearance — attacking George H.W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, while absolutely trolling the #MeToo movement as he once again played the racist bully to Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And just one week after the murder of five journalists by a gunman at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, there he was again pointing to the press and calling journalists “bad people.”

Even for a Trump rally, it was a new level of nasty. Calling journalists “bad people” in the wake of the Annapolis killings is despicable. It is beyond the pale of decent human behavior even for the most craven politician.

Thinking about the president in TV terms as I watched, he struck me as a performer who feared he was losing his audience and felt he had to take his act to another, more intense level to try and hold them or, in some cases, get them back. He was a version of the Las Vegas lounge comic or low-rent radio shock jock who has to be more and more insulting, crude, coarse and profane to try and keep his drunken nightclub goers or jaded listeners tuned into his act.

Maybe calling journalists the "enemy of the people" is not the best tactic if you hope to have broad coverage of your rallies, Donnie.

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