In June, Sarah Ellison reported, “according to several people briefed on the discussions,” Donald Trump was exploring “the possibility of launching a ‘mini-media conglomerate’” after the election. Ellison reported that Trump had put the project in the hands of his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Today, the Financial Times reports that Kushner has “informally approached one of the media industry’s top dealmakers about the prospect of setting up a Trump television network after the presidential election.”
These reports don’t say that Trump is definitely going into the television business. And they certainly don’t say that this is his primary motivation for running. But the most peculiar thing about Trump is that his motivations are so difficult to discern. He is a highly irrational person with weak attachments to the institutional interests of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. For that reason, it is hard to confidently analyze any Trump decision — you can’t game out his logic if you’re not sure what his goal is or if he is even capable of pursuing a goal at all.
If you do assume that Trump is acting rationally, then it is very hard to explain his campaign moves as steps in a considered plan to get elected president, and much easier to explain them as steps toward monetizing his audience through a media empire. This theory would explain why Trump handed control of his campaign to a media mogul (Steve Bannon), why he has needlessly attacked fellow members of his party, and why he has risked demoralizing his own voters by repeatedly calling the election rigged. These are logical decisions if his end goal is to wrest the intense loyalty of a large minority of the country away from other conservative organs and center it around a media brand he can control.
On the other hand, it is highly plausible that these moves make no sense at all, that Trump is simply an uncontrollable madman lashing around, and perhaps the gestures toward creating a media empire reflect Kushner’s strategy rather than his own. The “Trump TV” hypothesis is the foundational question that ultimately answers the truly-crazy-or-just-acting-crazy mystery surrounding the Republican nominee. We won’t know the answer until either Trump Television goes on the air, or President Trump calls tanks into the streets.