I watched the first few seasons of Donald Trump’s reality TV show The Apprentice when it screened about a decade back and I loved it. It was amazing storytelling, with heroes and villains and twists and jokes. Like all those shows it was partly scripted and heavily edited, and a lot of the classic tropes of reality TV – ‘I didn’t come here to make friends’, etc – originated with The Apprentice.
Former US Republican nominee Mitt Romney gave a speech today attacking Trump. And it’s a pretty good speech by the standards of the genre. It has lines like:
Mr. Trump’s bombast is already alarming the allies and fueling the enmity of our enemies.
Which has alliteration and a good cadence, and cool-sounding words like ‘bombast’ and ‘enmity’. Most politicians love giving speeches like this because they’re political geeks and this is how their historical heroes talked, and they always like to imagine themselves as Churchill or Reagan or Kennedy or whoever. But it is not, remotely the way normal people talk in the 21st century.
Trump, famously, doesn’t talk like a politician. He talks like a reality TV show star which is what he is. Lines like the one above, which is Trump’s response to Romney’s speech, in which he references Romney’s gratitude for Trump’s endorsement back in 2012 is the kind of killer line people say on reality TV all the time. It is just perfect.
There are lots of theories around explaining the rise of Trump – that he’s tapped into an authoritarian segment of the electorate, that he’s the fruit of the GOP’s poison tree – and I agree with some of them. But I also think that at a time of tremendous anger towards the political elite he happens to be a master of communicating in a way that is the total opposite of that hated elite. Probably a lot of what he says is scripted, just like someone else wrote Romney’s speech for him. He probably, literally has Apprentice scriptwriters he’s been working with for over a decade churning material out.