Voters are getting an early glimpse into what Trump TV might look like.
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE's campaign on Monday broadcast its first “nightly campaign coverage” from Trump Tower.
The 38-minute episode was a bit like a pre-game show for a Trump rally. It featured Trump surrogates and Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer talking about the political news of the day, aired on Facebook Live, and led into Trump speaking before a crowd in Tampa, Fla.
Subsequent episodes will air every night for the final two weeks until the presidential election, stoking speculation that the Republican nominee is conducting a dry-run to see how a potential Trump news network might be received.
Trump and his associates deny that the programming is a preview of things to come, saying only that it’s a means for the campaign to bypass the “left-wing” media and directly communicate with supporters on the issues they believe are being ignored.
“I have no interest in Trump TV,” Trump told Cincinnati radio station 700WLW on Tuesday. “I hear it all over the place. I have a tremendous fan base; we have a tremendous base. We have the most incredible people, but I just don't have any interest in that. I have one interest — that's on Nov. 8.”
The denial makes sense for a candidate who hopes to win the White House, but it is likely to do little to scuttle speculation about a possible television move if Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE wins.
Trump’s frustration with the media’s coverage of the election has been one of the dominant themes of his campaign.
And Trump’s proximity to top names in conservative media — former Fox News executive Roger Ailes has been an adviser and former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon is Trump’s campaign CEO — has fueled speculation about a possible Trump TV.
Media analysts interviewed by The Hill were split over whether Trump could pull off launching a full-blown television network but were unanimous in their praise of the Facebook Live event.
They said it’s an expert way to leverage Trump’s massive social media footprint and a model for future campaigns.
“The program looked like it was flying by the seat of its pants, but the idea of trying to communicate directly to supporters and bypassing traditional media is a good one,” said Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University.
The inaugural Trump nightly news episode was viewed by about 50,000 people in real time. It has since accumulated more than 1.4 million views.
The broadcast had all of the glitches and rough edges one might expect from a first pass.
“What’s going on?” Trump senior adviser Boris Epshteyn barked to someone off-screen, unaware that the cameras were rolling as he waited for the signal to begin.
“Give him a second, Boris. It’s all right,” fellow anchor and Trump adviser Cliff Sims responded.
Epshteyn anxiously checked his watch as the crew gave the anchors the 10-second warning. He then launched into the mission statement for the show.
“This is an effort by us to reach out to you guys,” Epshteyn said. “You can hear the message straight from the campaign. You don’t have to take it through the media filter and all the spin they put on it. You can hear it from us directly.”
Behind Epshteyn and Sims, about a dozen staffers could be seen working the phones from the campaign war room. They sat beneath mounted televisions, an American flag and a Trump poster emblazoned with the word “Vote.”
The show had the feel of a cable news program, with a chyron alerting viewers that the cameras would soon cut to Trump’s rally in Florida.
A crawl at the bottom of the screen relayed the latest positive developments for the Trump campaign: a poll from the conservative outlet Rasmussen showing the Republican with a 2-point national lead, and news of an endorsement from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which had recently been purchased by GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway joined Spicer as a guest. The discussion focused on events that Trump’s surrogates and aides said were being ignored by the mainstream media, including allegations that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a top Clinton ally, had made illicit campaign contributions to the wife of an FBI agent investigating Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of State.
They praised conservative media provocateur James O’Keefe’s undercover sting videos that seemed to reveal that Clinton allies had sought to stoke unrest at Trump campaign rallies.
Trump’s hosts and guests also discussed how the battleground states map is “very friendly” to Trump and how the GOP has a superior ground game to the Democrats — claims that election experts take issue with.
“Let me say unequivocally: We will win,” Conway assured viewers.
Instead of advertisements, the show was broken up by clips of Trump attacking Clinton at the final presidential debate of 2016.
The show piped in conservative commentator Tomi Lahren of The Blaze, who implored viewers to take up the fight against Democrats, the media and the Never Trump movement intent on stopping the GOP nominee.
“It’s up to us, the American voters, the deplorables, as Hillary would call us,” Lahren said. “It’s time to get out of her basket and make our voices heard.”
McCall said the overall effect was so good, “the Trump campaign probably should have tried this sooner.”
“I don't think the Trump TV effort will reach undecided voters to any great degree, but it should keep the base Trump backers engaged,” he said.
Jordan Chariton, a political reporter for The Young Turks, said there would be tremendous demand for a Trump channel after the election.
“As long as Trump is a prominent part of the platform, the same voters who rallied behind his bombast will convert to viewers,” he said.
Others say the hurdles to launching a broadcast television show are too great to pull off. McCaul noted that even Oprah Winfrey’s cable channel has struggled.
“He would have to convince major cable carriers like Comcast and Time Warner to sign up,” said McCaul. “Given the decline of traditional television viewing and the cord-cutting phenomenon, most cable operators would hesitate to bring on new channels.”
But all agreed that Trump is likely to at least carry on his Facebook broadcasts beyond the election to stay engaged with the millions who have been thrilled by his political rise.
Experts say similar broadcasts will proliferate as candidates reach into new media worlds and look to target their individual supporters.
“The model of Trump campaign producing their own news and news content will be replicated,” GOP digital strategist Vincent Harris tweeted. “It's where campaigns are headed.”