The making of the reality show presidency started with us

Originally published in The Hill July 31, 2015 here:


Donald Trump is a master at providing supply to meet demand. Say whatever you want of him, but making billions – however many he has – isn’t easy. Trump, the ever savvy business man, saw a ripe market in the race to lead the country and seized it, just as he did building his casinos, apparel line and The Apprentice into must-see TV.

We asked for it, and The Donald delivered. We the people created Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. No wonder he’s racing up the polls at the rate he is.

We created an environment where his style and manner – as deplorable as its often been –  is exactly what we, and the media by extension, demand.

This reality show nation has been begging for a reality show president.

Of course, being president is a serious job. It requires an incredible combination of leadership, intellect and perseverance. It’s anything but a game, and it deserves far more respect than Trump is showing it.

But, being honest, running for president has basically become a joke. Even the way we require politicians to state they paid for the ad has become a running gag. We have shrunk the process to something much smaller than an interview for the biggest job in the world ought to be.

Who really cares that John Kasich balanced the budget a bajillion years ago? That Bobby Jindal might just be the smartest guy to ever run? That Jim Webb is an honest-to-God war hero (he wasn’t captured, so he meets Trump’s definition)? Or that Rick Perry was elected governor three times of a state with an economy bigger than most countries? No, we collectively think of him as a buffoon because of one bad line in one debate. His record? Who cares!

None of them can even buy a headline compared to what Trump is out there selling.

Smart politicians speak to the issues voters want to hear about. And they find ways to motivate those that might not vote at all, thinking no politician will address the problems they see.

That may be what scares the political handwringing class the most. Trump isn’t just offering a better-marketed movie; he’s offering the movie many Americans want to see, which looks very little like the one the professional political class has been pitching for years. He’s talking about the issues that most Americans actually sit around the dinner table and talk about. People are worried about immigration. They’re worried about America’s waning power. They’re genuinely afraid that their kids might not have a better chance than they did.

America is unquestionably uneasy. Its people are anxious and eager for something different to happen in Washington. The status quo has never been less acceptable.

Trump understood that simple truth and built his whole campaign around it. Lo and behold, it’s working. The only thing getting in the way is his inability to stop saying foolish things, but even that only seems to be a speed bump for the Trump Express.

The rest of the field could and should learn something from Trump. They could learn to be more engaging and more authentic. They could learn not to avoid the controversial issues. They could speak like they meant it. They could build their campaign around connecting with what real people in the real world want their elected leaders to change.

Yes, it’s just possible The Donald might have changed this campaign for the better. The media is covering more than just poll numbers. The amount of conversation about politics is awfully high for the dog days of summer. Heck, when the time comes, more people may even show up and vote.

After all, we the people get the final say on who’s fired and who’s not on this reality show.

I hope we pick wisely.


Bailey is the managing partner of Opinion Leaders, a strategic advocacy and grassroots firm. He is not associated with any candidate for president.

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