The late 1990s and 2000s show “The West Wing” gave liberals a unique opportunity to coalesce around a fictional president while former President George W. Bush was leading the country into two endless wars and ultimately the greatest recession in a generation. But History Channel host Rick Harrison, co-owner of Las Vegas’ World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop and a production company staffer proposed Trump turn his White House into a reality TV show based on the West Wing.
“I wanted to bring everyone together because I think Van and Rick have a wonderful idea that can help the president,” Mercedes Schlapp told the room as they met over the idea, according to an excerpt from Lachlan Markay’s new book Sinking in the Swamp: How Trump’s Minions and Misfits Poisoned Washington.
“Schlapp quickly turned the meeting over to Harrison,” and Van Hipp, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. He currently works as a top Pentagon lobbyist. The two men pitched former White House staffer Cliff Sims on the show.
The concept would surround a historical event that would be the focus of each episode. Then Trump would do on-camera interviews once a week about the topic. It was ultimately a free weekly advertisement for Trump to air his grievances.
“Throughout the meeting, Schlapp kept talking up Sims. He’s your guy, she told Hipp and Harrison. He does all the video work with the president. They see each other every morning. He can make this happen. He can go and pitch the president on the idea,” wrote Markay.
But Sims confessed there was no way they could fit a reality TV show into the president’s busy schedule.
“Hipp and Harrison anticipated the snag. Perhaps, they suggested, they could tail the president during his morning walk from the bottom of the residence elevator over to the Oval Office,” Markay explained.
Nothing was ultimately decided but Schlapp kept after Sims for weeks asking if he pitched Trump the idea.
“The whole thing seemed very strange to Sims, who confided in multiple associates and friends about this strange occurrence, trying to figure out what on Earth was going on,” the piece recalled. “Why was Schlapp so big on this obscure idea? And why was she bringing it to him, rather than pitching the president herself, as her access to Trump would certainly allow?”
Then Sims figured it out: Hipp was a board member of Schlapp’s American Conservative Union and a lobbyist for Harrison’s production company. Though, Hipp never disclosed any of the lobbying efforts until well after Sims left.
“The realization of all those connections also provided a clue about why Schlapp had come to Sims instead of pitching the president directly,” explained Markay. “She and her husband recoil at any suggestion that they’re using their positions and influence with the president to advance their private interests. Having Sims propose the idea would provide a degree of separation: The Schlapps could claim it wasn’t their idea; it was Sims’s.”