With recent polls showing Hillary Clinton maintaining a sizable lead over Republican rival Donald Trump, many Democrats are predicting a landslide win in November.
And, if Trump does lose, many in the GOP establishment are hoping the brash and unpredictable real estate mogul turned reality TV star will just go away.
But Trump is unlikely to do that.
Instead, with his ever-tighter ties to former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (who is now reportedly advising the Republican candidate) and his recent hiring of former Breitbart chairman Steven Bannon, there’s a growing chorus, propelled by a report in Vanity Fair, saying that Trump’s endgame is not the nation’s highest office — but to have a right-wing media outlet of his own.
If Trump lost in November and then launched his own media operation — a plan his campaign has repeatedly denied — what would it be exactly? And would it be a success?
"Losing in November would be the best thing that could happen, from a business standpoint," said Jon Klein, former president of CNN’s U.S. operations. Klein, who is currently the CEO of TAPP, the subscription-based online video network that launched Sarah Palin’s now defunct channel, added, "It would only increase the passion of his most hard-core supporters, and it would give them a juicy target to rail against for the next four years."
If Trump were to launch his own media venture, we don’t know what form it would take: cable TV, the internet, or something else entirely.
But Klein said the internet subscription route — in the style of Glenn Beck’s Blaze TV, in which a small (by web and cable TV standards) audience pays a monthly fee for behind-paywall video content — would be highly successful in that it would eliminate the cable or satellite middleman so viewers could better “connect deeply and directly with their hero.”
Whether or not an internet video network would be high-profile enough for the attention-hungry Trump is another question.
"It’s hard to imagine if Trump were to be looking to build a media operation that it would be anything [except] small," said Brian Wieser, a senior analyst of advertising, media and internet at Pivotal Research Group. But to start an actual television station would cost hundreds of millions of dollars at least, which begs the question, “How much money does he really have? How much in liquid assets?” said Wieser. Trump routinely claims to be worth $10 billion, though that figure is highly suspect.
Robert Thompson, a professor and director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, predicted a cable network would be unsuccessful for Trump in that it’s an enormous, expensive undertaking and it’s already a very crowded news environment. And “for many millions of Americans the Trump brand is already tarnished,” he said.
On the other hand, “You need fewer people to make a hit night on cable television that you do to be elected president. If he could regularly have a media operation that would have 3 million people watching that would be successful,” he said of Trump. That's not an outlandish number to imagine — after all, some 14 million people voted for Trump in the GOP primaries.
And there's another angle, too. Trump the candidate loves to skewer the media, frequently calling it "dishonest" and "corrupt." He's arguably foreshadowing a "problem" that he can "fix."
Trump is “already setting up a narrative, that the media is corrupt and the system is rigged against him. The natural transition is ‘we need a platform to be heard,’” said Kurt Bardella, Breitbart’s former spokesman who quit earlier this year and has been highly critical of Trump. The hiring of Bannon certainly indicates that Trump is considering a media entity for his base, he added.
And there's no doubt Trump would love the attention of being not just a business mogul, but a media honcho, too.
“What Trump is happiest doing is running for president, not being president — but running for president,” said Thompson. “Part of that has to do with him being in the media spotlight.”