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New York Times Media Critic: The Rise Of Donald Trump Had Nothing To Do With Right-Wing Politics

Here’s Jim Rutenberg, the man picked to replace David Carr as media critic of The New York Times, with the laziest take imaginable on the subject of Donald Trump:

Above all else, the success of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign was made possible by the media environment in which it was spawned, and his canny ability to exploit it….

A forceful personality with an unparalleled reality-television pedigree, Mr. Trump was perfectly primed to take advantage of the increasingly happy marriage between the news and entertainment sides of the media business — becoming a textbook candidate for the modern infotainment era of which he was already a product….

Mr. Trump came at [the campaign] with a new philosophy: Give them a big, messy show with a regular stream of action, and they will come with their cameras and won’t turn them off….

He reached the highest level of electoral politics not through legislative or executive accomplishment but through a series of video moments that showcased a can’t-look-away personality as much as anything he achieved in business.

And … that’s it. That’s the syllogism: Trump mastered televised entertainment, politics is now televised entertainment, therefore Trump beat 16 candidates to become the Republican presidential nominee, and seemed for a while to be on the verge of being elected president. Television is the drug of the nation! So fame is all it took!

Except that that makes no sense. Yes, we love our video entertainment, but who else has made the leap from reality TV to politics, apart from that guy who was on The Real World back in the early 2000s and is now a congressman whose name you’ve probably never heard of? There’s no glide path from reality TV to politics. Clay Aiken lost his congressional race in 2014. Jerry Springer assessed his prospects and chose not to run for a Senate seat in 2004 (and he’d actually been mayor of Cincinnati prior to his TV career). Politics isn’t reality TV. Americans like reality TV. They don’t particularly like politics.

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Rutenberg adds:

… as we know now, nothing did more to set up Mr. Trump for 2016 presidential politics than his own TV show, “The Apprentice,” which became a hit during its first season, in 2004….

He had no policy expertise and was not a historian, but he offered something more compelling for news producers: ratings, which is the only thing that can explain all the coverage he later received for his news conferences questioning President Obama’s citizenship.

It’s as if there’s nothing more to the formula than fame — it’s as if tapping into the racism of the GOP electorate had nothing to do with Trump’s success. When he led the GOP primary polls for a brief period in 2011 before choosing not to run, it was high name recognition, yes, but it was also birtherism. When he hijacked the primaries in this cycle, it was Mexican- and Muslim-bashing. The Apprentice set him up for this, but hate finished the job.

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