Over the last 12 hours Donald Trump has used his fingers-of-unusual-size to escalate his war on SuperPacs and Big Media.
See also: The President America Deserves
I love Trump openly doing a professional level heel gimmick. Politics has been compared to wrestling for years. Until now that’s been an insult to wrestling and hack writing.
Now it’s finally true. Here’s a compilation of former MN Governor Jesse Ventura cutting promos. Note well the implausible boasts, endless name-dropping and totally unsubstantiated claims:
How is this different than Trump claiming to be self-made gazillionaire with enormous, graceful fingers? Trump isn’t just a Heel. He is a *great* Heel. That makes a decent percentage of the media public Marks. It’s not a compliment.
In wrestling parlance, Marks are the ones not in on the bit. They don’t get that they’re supposed to be calling the Heel a liar. They’re supposed to be outraged, maybe even a little afraid. That’s how the show works. The Heel barks, the Marks get enraged and there’s fight in the parking lot.
Without a reaction the Heel can’t exist. There is no show if no one cares. Take one fake controversy: How much is Trump worth?
The correct answer is: He’s rich.*Shrug.
Wealth isn’t really a number. It’s how you shop. The richer you are the less often you have to look at price-tags. Trump has enough money to live like an Emir with bad taste. That makes him rich.
There is no practical distinction between having $3billion or $10billion. What matters to Trump is getting people to argue about the number.
If the media is fighting over Trump’s net worth they aren’t doing things like pointing out the Great Wall of China was built using the bones of slave labor and didn’t work as a defense.
There have always been Heels. Before he became a universally beloved hero Muhammad Ali was monster Heel. He claimed to be inspired by Gorgeous George, a flamboyant, despised wrestler in the 1950s. “It doesn’t matter if they pay to see me get whupped” Ali shouted, “as long as they come to the arena”.
Ali was also a member of the Nation of Islam, a group that claimed white people were Devils and killed Malcom X for not being militant enough. That was scary. Trump’s plan to build a 2,000 mile wall and bill Mexico for it is just dumb.
When I was 10 Jesse Ventura created a local stir by claiming Carly Simon wrote “You’re So Vain” about him. The children of Ventura Truthers are currently writing 5,000 word blogs about Trump only being worth $2b.
Heels feed on hatred. They need it. If all these media smarts would deign to watch pro wrestling they would have realized this by now.
Win or Lose, Trump Has Changed the Game
According to NPR there will be $4.4b spent on campaign ads this year, up more than 15% from 2012. Bet on the under. Thanks in no small part to his phenomenal Twitter and television Heel skills (see also: Trolling) Trump is running his campaign for a fraction of the cost of his rivals. Trump dominates the news cycle. What’s the point of buying a 30 second TV spot when you can get a 15 minute segment for free just by infuriating people?
Here’s what Romney and Obama spent running against one another. At the rate he’s spending Trump getting the GOP nod would cost the networks millions in ad dollars.
Not only has Trump built his lead in the GOP race on the cheap but he’s spending about 1/5th what the Democrats are spending on their race. That’s remarkable considering the degree to which the Democrats are simply going the motions on the way to Clinton’s last big push.
Campaign ads are a relic. Trump has completely blown up the old formula of huge donors controlling the election process. That Trump has done it through blunt force only reinforces the magnitude of the shift. By the next election cycle every candidate who makes its this far will have a sophisticated social media ground game. By 2018 every candidate will understand and embrace the power of social media presence in politics. The ones who don’t won’t win. It’s that simple.
They won’t all be angry howlers like Trump. There are plenty of smart, likable people who understand social media. Unfortunately none of them happen to be running for President this year.
In tech terms, Trump is a bit like Napster, rudely clearing the way for the more elegant (and profitable) iTunes quasi-monopoly.
If the prospect of grass-roots candidates Tweeting their way to election wins doesn’t scare the hell out of the networks it should. In a cord-cutting world Big Media can’t afford to lose its quadrennial Golden Goose.