Donald Trump Runs His Campaign Like a Reality Show

Donald Trump and Draya Michele have a lot in common.

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Complex Original

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What song do you think Marco Rubio cried to after his crushing defeat in his home state of Florida on Tuesday? An admitted 2Pac fan, I would put money on Rubio reflecting on his career with a loop of “So Many Tears.” While some claimed to be moved by his “heartfelt” remarks about the brutishness of Donald Trump and his campaign, offered days prior to Rubio’s exit, I felt nothing.

Rubio deserved to lose because he was an abysmal candidate. You may hate me, but it ain't no lie (baby, bye bye bye).

Trumps treats his political opponents the same way nemeses treat each other on any Real Housewives franchise.

Rubio, like Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, and every other floundering Republican candidate during this election, condemns Trump with insults like “carnival barker,” “clown,” “con man”—insults meant to convey that Trump is too much of a showman to be taken seriously. What these slights get right is that Trump campaigns like an entertainer. In fact, Donald Trump is basically running his campaign the same way one would orchestrate a reality show.

Trumps treats his political opponents the same way nemeses treat each other on any Real Housewives franchise. There is a genius in how Trump can encapsulate a political adversary’s greatest flaw in as few words as possible. Ask Jeb! Bush about his “low energy.” Trump referring to Ted Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted” is akin to NeNe Leakes coining the name “Wig” for Kim Zolciak on Real Housewives of Atlanta. Or how I have referred to Leakes in my writing and tweets as “Baloo.” These insults stick because Trump is able to disparage a foe in an entertaining way.

And like any bitchy reality star (this applies to men and women alike, FYI), Trump loves a tit-for-tat, which is why every Republican debate has mirrored a reality show reunion. When he announced that he would not be attending the now-canceled debate Fox News scheduled for March 21, all I could think of was Draya Michele bowing out of the Basketball Wives reunions because she was tired of talking about the same bullshit. To wit, Trump tweeted: “How many times can the same people ask the same question?”

Trump is narcissistic, dramatic, and completely out of his depth in terms of actual policymaking. However, what Trump’s critics continue to misunderstand is that that last issue doesn’t matter—his narcissism and intuitive understanding of drama make him great at campaigning. By centering on the theatrics of the campaign trail, he is presently winning winning winning.

Trump’s critics may cry that his approach prevents debates from digging into anything substantive, but is this a stance rooted in reality? Does anyone want (or recognize) substance? We live in a country where, as of September 2015, 43 percent of Republicans still believed that President Obama is Muslim. A 2012 study found that one in three Americans could not pass a naturalization civics test. And when it comes to the GOP candidates, a lot of them are just as empty on policy as Trump—notably on domestic issues like health care (they want to repeal Obamacare but provide no clear alternative) and the economy (we don’t want debt, but let’s give rich people huge tax cuts).

In January, Robert Gates, the former Defense Secretary for President George W. Bush and President Obama, said of those candidates who had promised to “carpet bomb” ISIS: “Well, they—first of all, they don't know what they're talking about. Carpet bombing would be completely useless. It's totally contrary to the American way of war. Total disregard for civilians. So I mean, part of the concern that I have with the campaign, particularly when it comes to national security, is that the solutions being offered are so simplistic and so at odds with the reality of the rest of the world, with the way the world really works.

Reading this, I immediately think of Phaedra Parks reading Kenya Moore:

It’s a shame Gates didn’t end his response with “Now carpet bomb that.”

As full of shit as Trump is, so is the rest of his competition. Moreover, critiques of Trump’s lack of seriousness recall the same issue I have with outcry over his racism: Nearly everyone else is guilty of the same.

All of the cable networks are guilty of promoting both Republican and Democratic debates like they are Wrestlemania steel cage matches. The cable networks are guilty of crafting programming that focuses on two people of differing political views barking at each other. CNN created two incarnations of Crossfire, and really, what network has not had and continues to feature segments like that?

Reality shows are nothing more than people giving real reactions to carefully choreographed scenarios intended to produce conflict at maximum volume. If that scenario sounds familiar to you—and you’ve never binged Basketball Wives—it’s because you’ve been paying attention to this election cycle.

Now, I will concede that Trump has gone too far in how he purposely takes an already hostile environment and incites violence at his rallies. It’s become like an episode of any Love & Hip-Hop franchise in that respect, and the potential for something fatal is too high of a risk for him to take. Even so, when Ted Cruz was asked about Trump’s rallies on Meet the Press, Cruz called President Obama a demagogue and said that it’s “moralizing from the president that makes people angry.” When asked if it was worse, Cruz said, “To be honest, I think it’s very much the same. They’re both engaging in demagoguery.”

Chuck Todd did not challenge him on this false equivalence. (To his credit, Todd did take Trump to task on inciting violence in a separate interview.) Instead, both host and guest got to stick to their respective scripts, making me question the usefulness of our news media if it isn’t a space to challenge politicians in a meaningful way. Trump knows that this is empty spectacle and plays not only on the ignorance of angry and uninformed blocs of voters, but also an industry consumed by “infotainment.” One is free to hate how Trump has managed to go from hosting The Apprentice to potentially becoming the next commander-in-chief with the same skill set, but your anger should not begin and end with Donald J. Trump.

Trump is a symptom, not the disease.

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