Washington (CNN)On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence was in Las Vegas honoring the victims of the largest mass shooting in modern American history. Less than 24 hours later, he was in Indiana walking out of the Indianapolis Colts game against the San Francisco 49ers after several of the players failed to stand during the National Anthem.
President Donald Trump, never one to cede to the spotlight, quickly took to Twitter to claim credit for Pence’s walk-out. “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen,” tweeted Trump. He continued to inject himself into the moment Monday morning, tweeting that Pence received “great praise” for leaving the game.
Pence flew from Las Vegas to Indianapolis to go the game. (He went, according to his office, because longtime Colts great Peyton Manning was being honored.) Pence then jetted back to California.
Add up all that context and it’s clear that Trump knew exactly what he was doing. Remember that Trump’s formative experience before running for president was as a reality show star and producer. He helped start “The Apprentice” in 2004 with Mark Burnett and served as its face for more than a decade. He didn’t just learn the lessons of what makes good reality TV — he mainlined them.
Cliffhangers. Reversals of fortune. And, always, drama, drama, drama.
That’s exactly the approach Trump has taken to the White House. He feuds! He fights! He tweets! And, always, he makes you watch.
Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who has openly battled with Trump, told The New York Times that the President’s approach in the White House is similar to a “reality show,” adding that it’s “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”
The Pence protest is a perfect example of Trump as the puppet master of a giant reality show he’s producing. Trump knew that Pence was headed to the Colts game. (The vice president’s office said the trip had long been scheduled.) He believes strongly that the fight he picked with NFL players over whether or not to stand during the National Anthem is a good one for him — and his political base. And so he directed Pence to stage the walkout and make sure everyone knew about it.
And, because Trump really does know how to create watchable TV, Pence’s walkout became the story on Sunday. Every NFL post-game show talked about it and showed the picture of Pence (and his wife) standing during the anthem.
Is Trump aware that, unlike the fake consequences of reality TV, what he says and does — and what he directs his vice president to say and do — has very real impacts on the country? Maybe. Will that change his behavior? Almost certainly not.
The price tag for Pence’s trip to Indianapolis
Trump’s entire life — even before he found a medium like reality TV — was about making sure every eye is on him. That people are talking about him — no matter what they’re saying — amounts to a victory in Trump’s eyes. In that way, he is the perfect president for our famous-for-being-famous celebrity culture. He is the political version of the Kardashians, always mindful of where the camera is, how to ramp up the drama and how to keep people watching — even if they say they hate everyone involved.
The Kardashians may well make for great TV. But, would you want one of them to be president? Or for the president to think like them?
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