The next hustle: What we should expect from Trump
What will Donald Trump’s post-presidency look like? It’s really not a complicated question to answer. We know that Trump will never admit he lost (at least not “fairly”). He will want to get even with anyone he considers “disloyal.” But most of all, he will want to make as much money as he can. Unfortunately, those instincts will interfere with the other task reportedly at the top of his list: becoming president again.
Much has been made of the fall of the Trump brand and his potentially perilous financial condition. But Trump may make it through these difficulties more easily than you might think. He still has a large core of supporters and a certain aura.
Question: What is a good description of the prototypical MAGA Trump supporter? Answer: Someone who would do anything to get into Mar-a-Lago, but whom Trump would allow in only to fix the plumbing.
And that is how his brand could still be an asset.
Trump has always set up his brand as one of luxury and success. Today, high-net-worth consumers are fleeing his brand. Properties that may have possessed a premium value just from the Trump name now do not (or may be at a discount). But for the masses supporting him, Trump still stands for success and aspiration. Trump can still profit from that perception.
Trump’s moneymaking ventures will likely revolve around three areas: media, merchandising and public appearances.
The media portion seems the most lucrative but also the most challenging to Trump’s political future. While the likelihood of establishing a successful new cable channel is next to zero (it seems unlikely the major carriers would consider putting Trump TV on their systems), a streaming service would be relatively cheap to set up and could be marketed direct to Trump fans.
I think there’s little chance he buys Newsmax or One America News Network (OANN). Even if they were for sale, why spend the money when he can put together his own service? Not to mention that the minute Trump buys either network, major cable carriers will likely start dropping them.
It is impossible to determine what Trump will charge or ultimately demand. Barron’s speculated that $300 million in revenue is not out of the question (5 million subscribers at $5 per month). Trump could price high and offer a special “deal” to pay upfront for a full year. That brings in a very large cash infusion very quickly.
The subscriptions are only a start. You better believe Trump will be selling the email list to anyone prepared to pay the price. The channel will likely be stuffed full of ads and double as a platform to sell all kinds of apparel and various Trump tchotchkes. Sales of emails, ads and junk alone might be enough to support the venture — because the programming is likely to be cheap. When the attraction is Trump, why pay for high-profile talent? The service will likely be loaded up with his most sycophantic loyalists who will be glad to get a paycheck.
Trump will also likely head out on tour at some point. Pull in 15,000 Trump fans for a dozen or so dates at $30 per ticket, and that’s more than $5 million — plus merchandising, food concessions, etc. (and a chance to sell TV subscriptions). Trump might even get the MyPillow guy to cover some of the expenses. Trump may offer himself for personal appearances. He could bid himself up to Republicans in conservative states or offer Mar-a-Lago as a fundraising venue. Rent it out for half a million and get Trump’s support.
In sum, Trump could clean up in year one.
But it wouldn’t be long before trouble starts.
In the media, you have to keep providing new and interesting content. Longevity is very tough — it takes real skill to stay fresh and hold on to your audience. Trump himself has a gift for showmanship and promotion, but could he handle a daily or even a weekly program on Trump TV? He attracted good crowds for his occasional campaign forays and held them in attention through his long monologues. But accomplishing that week after week seems like a stretch. And forget a talk show. Trump only wants to talk about Trump, while talk show interviews are mostly about the guest.
As for the rest of the programming, the cheap collection of loyalists seems likely to be a bust. Is there any evidence that Don Jr. could handle a show of his own? Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani would be an entertaining train wreck for a few weeks, but that’s about it. Bad programming, tons of ads and endless email solicitations probably mean few renewals. Trump’s thirst for cash would inevitably alienate a portion of his base.
The fundamental problem for Trump is that he has little to offer except complaint. As president, he was the center of attention and made news just because he was president. As a private citizen, he has a much harder task. His previous stints in the public eye were mostly stage-managed by other people. It was “The Apprentice” that launched Trump back into the American consciousness, but there Mark Burnett set up the plot dominated by back-stabbing contestants with a climax in which Trump ripped them apart for 15 minutes.
How does Trump stay relevant on his own? It will be a monumental task competing with all the other voices criticizing President Biden. He likely won’t be allowed back on Twitter or Facebook anytime soon. When either company even contemplates allowing Trump back, their employees will revolt. Fox News will be much more parsimonious covering Trump given his attacks on them. Newsmax and OANN will not appreciate the competition from Trump TV.
Trump will not disappear. There will always be a very loyal core, and he still has a superior sense of marketing and self-promotion. But after a year (or less), Trump’s shtick will get tired, and he will have soaked some of his loyalists beyond what they can handle. The decline will be uneven but inevitable and perhaps the most interesting thing about Trump’s future.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D. is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Dr. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.