In the final presidential debate on Wednesday night, moderator Chris Wallace pushed for Trump to give a direct answer as to whether he would accept the results of the election even if Hillary Clinton wins.
Even as Wallace—and later Clinton—insisted that the losing candidate’s acceptance of an election’s validity is a cornerstone of American democracy and the peaceful transfer of power, Trump obstinately refused to say whether he would concede if he lost. Instead, he said, “I will look at it at the time” and opted to “keep [us] in suspense.”
Sounds a whole lot like a cliffhanger designed to keep you watching a show, doesn’t it? And perhaps that is the intention behind it after all.
It’s a hell of a pivot from his response during the second debate, when he said “If she wins, I will absolutely support her.” And it’s a departure from the script that his campaign manager, his running mate, and even his daughter Ivanka all seemed to be reading from. Each of them responded to the same question before the debate, stating that Trump and his team would unequivocally accept the results of the election even if he is not the winner.
Trump has recently gone on multiple tirades about how the election is likely to be rigged, asserting that the media in particular has been conspiring against him (and therefore against the best interests of the American people according to him and his supporters, who are particularly conspiracy theory prone) since the beginning of his campaign.
Looking at his talking points in conjunction with a recent New York Times report about his son-in-law (Jared Kushner, owner of the New York Observer) meeting with media investors, it seems likely that The Donald has set his sights on a Trump TV Network.
It makes perfect sense. By now he must be aware that his chances of becoming president are less than dismal, but he still has an impassioned following of people who are angry, scared, and distrustful of anything they perceive as mainstream. If Trump can simply convince them that the election he is soon to lose was lost for illegitimate reasons and that the only media options currently available will persist in covering up “The Truth,” he suddenly has a significant loyal viewer base.
And he already has some of the most batshit crazy media personalities from the paranoid right on his team.His campaign has always prioritized media spectacle over political strategy. Steve Bannon of Breitbart is his campaign CEO, while Alex Jones and James O’Keefe have a reciprocal relationship with the Trump campaign. They promote him, he posts their stories on social media and references them in interviews.
This has all the ingredients for a paranoid, white-nationalist media network that would put off even the “racist grandparents with a black friend in their church group” demographic Fox News has cornered.
And, as POLITICO reports, the evening of the debate might have even been the first test for Trump TV. His Facebook page used the Facebook Live feature to broadcast a pre and post debate show which “cycled through Trump surrogates, family members and former Apprentice cast members, all of whom praised Trump endlessly.”
Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Trump Jr. all made appearances. And the hosts, from the Right Side Broadcasting Network, ensured that “the common refrain was: ‘The mainstream media is against us.’”
Some liberal pundits and handwringers have feared that Trump’s suggestions of a rigged election could undermine the legitimacy of American democracy, perhaps even leading to riots and attempts to hinder the democratic process. It’s not implausible, but only the most fringe of Trump supporters would be likely to take to the streets. Even the alt-right would have to abandon Reddit and 4Chan for a few hours if they were to take to the streets, and that seems entirely unlikely.
No, I think it’s a safe bet that Trump is harnessing the energy of his supporters to get preliminary views on his Facebook broadcasts, which will lead to investors and cable providers willing to take a risk. At that point, he can corral his angry hordes to his channel and promise that Trump TV will guide them through the disastrous Clinton years and tell them what to do next.
If Trump gets his way, his supporters won’t be marching in the streets. They’ll be settling into their couches to turn on Trump TV.
As bad as he is at many things, we have to give Donald credit for being a media manipulator par excellence. He got hours and hours of free campaign coverage from mainstream networks just by being outrageous, bombastic, and brutish. And now he is parlaying a failed presidential campaign into the groundwork for another business venture. If that entails violating one of the core principles of American democracy…well, so be it!
That is all, if…IF he can stay out of Jail.