On Tuesday, writing for The New York Times, James Poniewozik outlined how the slow collapse of "The Apprentice" reveals President Donald Trump's fatal flaw — one that could cost him everything in November.
"The finale of the first season of 'The Apprentice' in 2004 was the top-rated show on TV. Afterward the host, finally a mass-media star after decades of courting fame, believed that giving people twice as much of him would be twice as good," wrote Poniewozik. "The 'Apprentice' that returned was more Trump-centric, the host more brash, loud and insulting, his boardroom firings more dramatic and stunt-filled. Mr. Trump himself took to the talk- and comedy-show circuit like a starlet in Oscar season, appearing in ads and on red carpets delivering his trademark 'You’re fired' finger-point and sneer. He was everywhere."
"It didn’t work," wrote Poniewozik. "The ratings declined, first gradually, then precipitously. While competitors like 'American Idol' topped the charts for years, 'The Apprentice' declined until Mr. Trump was left hosting a gimmick version with C-list celebrities. For years after, he would cling to that one glorious stat from 2004 like an Electoral College map, to claim that his reality show was still the biggest thing on TV."
The problem for Trump, Poniewozik argued, is that he blindly pursues publicity, without thought to whether the publicity is good or bad, and that sooner or later, people just get tired of him. His announcement that he will resume the pandemic briefings — which ended catastrophically in April after he suggested on national TV that people should inject household cleaners into their bodies — shows he is falling into the same trap with his presidency.
"For a moment, [the briefings] allowed him to create the visual impression that he was acting on the pandemic, by going out and speaking on it. For a moment, his approval ratings — and TV ratings — went up," wrote Poniewozik. "But what you do with the attention turns out to matter, at least when the stakes are hundreds of thousands of lives, not a game-show prize. It matters if you suggest that household disinfectants could be a medical treatment. It matters if you go to war with your own medical experts. It matters if you minimize, on Page 1, a terrible reality that everyone can read about for themselves in the obituaries."
"Mr. Trump seems to believe that Americans are yearning for a TV star more than they are yearning for a leader — or, at least, that they do not recognize a difference between the two," concluded Poniewozik. "It always works until it stops working. Until someone decides that too much, in fact, is enough already."
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