Donald Trump is still running for president. But he is also doing a lot of other things, as well. He is promoting the second grand opening of his new Washington D.C. hotel Wednesday, and on Tuesday he showcased his Doral golf resort in Florida, gathering cameras to photograph all his employees. “We’re at Trump National Doral,” he told the national press, less than three weeks before the election. “It’s one of the great places on earth.”
On the stump, he has begun delivering alternative news reports at the start of his speeches, laying out the latest scandals that he sees the mainstream news media ignoring before he describes his plans for the future. And in a possible preview of a news venture if he loses, he has asked his staff to launch a new nightly news show on Facebook to broadcast this different view about what is happening in the country.
“We’re absolutely winning,” Trump surrogate Boris Epshteyn announced on the first show Monday night, despite the fact that public polling and Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway show Trump trailing.
“We know we’re ahead of where we’ve ever been before, and we think we’re ahead of them,” followed Sean Spicer said Monday night of the GOP ground-game. Democrats have a 4-1 staff advantage over Republicans across battleground states.
The shift in strategy is unconventional, but it fits a pattern for Trump, who has always combined promoting his own businesses with his political ambitions. But the strategic moves come at a time when the campaign is not exactly hiding internal differences over the direction of the campaign. “Donald Trump is at his very best, at his very best, when he talks about the issues,” Conway told CNN for a profile broadcast on Tuesday.
After an event on Saturday, Conway said she confronted Trump for going off script at a rally, suggesting he was sabotaging his own chances for the White House. “You and I are in a fight for the next 17 days,” Conway said she told him. “Because I know you’re going to win. And that comment you just made sounds like you think you’re going to lose. And we’re going to argue about it until you win.”
Trump has never taken easily to such staff direction, and there are clear signs that he has become more comfortable in recent weeks charting his own course away from the issues, towards the airing of grievances, including attacks on the media and Clinton. After nearly a dozen women came forward to accuse him of sexual impropriety or assault, he launched an aggressive new message, arguing that there was a conspiracy of globalists, the Clinton campaign and the media to elect his opponent. Republican strategists have privately complained that this is a message aimed not at people he needs to win, but at those die-hard supporters who attend his rallies.
The nightly video show on Facebook is another enterprise that seems aimed primarily at those voters who have already decided they will support Trump. The nightly program launched Monday, just over two weeks before Election Day. It continued Tuesday, after his evening rally.
Starring the three-piece -suit-clad Epshteyn, a former junior advisor to John McCain, and Cliff Sims, the publisher of conservative website Yallowhammer News, Trump Live appears to represent the proof of concept for the long-rumored Trump Television network.
The show offered anti-Clinton polemics by the likes of Rudy Giuliani and 24-year-old Blaze TV host Tomi Lahren. For those not already versed in the language and arguments of the conservative press, the barrier for entry for engaging with the show would likely have seemed high. On the inaugural episode, Epshetyn compared the Democratic nominee to a mob boss.
Beyond the ad-hominem attacks, Trump Live is one of the last bastions of optimism for the Republican nominee, despite overwhelming polling data showing his struggles. At times, it even seemed like the show was acknowledging Trump’s coming defeat. “We’re basically electing a criminal,” said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the Tuesday broadcast.
Advised by former Fox News boss Roger Ailes and Breitbart News CEO Stephen Bannon, Trump and his aides have held multiple conversations about a future media empire for the bombastic nominee over the last several months. If the Facebook live stream viewership is any indication, may struggle to build an audience. A peak of 60,000 tuned in live on the first night, but quickly fell to under 50,000. On the second night, only about 30,000 people watched live. (The first stream, which included footage of Trump’s rally in St. Augustine, Fla. was viewed 1.4 million times over the subsequent 24 hours, according to Facebook.)
Trump, at least publicly, has denied an interest in a media empire, telling a Ohio radio station Tuesday, “No, I have no interest in Trump TV,”
But that doesn’t mean a core base of Trump supporters are unwilling to watch. Indeed, the broadcasts so far have been full of surprises. After a brief blackout due to a “setting configuration” error on Trump’s end Tuesday night, an unseen producer marveled to the hosts: “They’re blaming Facebook,” he said, “saying it’s a conspiracy.”