Donald Trump did not emerge from the wonkish world of conservative politics and policy. He was a product of the national media and international entertainment industry, and he brought that unique swagger to the White House in 2016, after several years of flirting with the idea in interviews. He honed his image of a savvy know-it-all billionaire businessman on NBC’s The Apprentice. The show was number one in the network television ratings for several years, as Trump plucked C- and D-list celebrities to compete for his affections.
But the success of the over-the-top WWE showman persona that put Trump in the White House has not rubbed off on the political candidates whom he’s selected over the course of the last three elections — 2018, 2020 and now 2022. It seems like the time is now to move on from his particular brand of gameshow celebrity politics.
Dr. Mehmet Oz was Trump’s handpicked candidate for the Pennsylvania Senate race this midterm. Oz got his celebrity start with Oprah, which is fitting as she quizzed Trump about running for president in 1988. Trump thought Oz would be a suitable Senate candidate because of his celebrity status and medical background and his ability to command a studio audience. Oz is also a personal friend of Melania Trump, which played no small part in Trump’s endorsement in the GOP Senate primary.
Oz lost the Pennsylvania Senate race to John Fetterman, another media circus sideshow, and was propelled past the primary over David McCormick thanks to Trump’s endorsement. Given Fetterman’s recent difficulties campaigning due to a debilitating stroke, this race could have easily have been won by a moderate like McCormick. Mehmet Oz was the exact kind of media celebrity who belonged on Celebrity Apprentice and nowhere near a United States Senate race that was separated by only a couple of seats.
Trump’s other handpicked candidate, NFL Hall of Famer Herschel Walker, finds himself in a runoff race with Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock. Trump, a longtime football fan and almost one-time owner of the Buffalo Bills, apparently thought Walker’s reputation as a Georgia football legend would be enough to carry him through another race for the balance of the United States Senate. Walker can be a motivational and even pastor-like speaker in his own right, but again, he seems far better suited to serve as a reservist in Trump’s Political Apprentice.
Donald Trump has decided that he alone knows what’s best for the Republican Party and conservative movement writ large. He may have backed celebrity author J.D. Vance, who won his race, and enigmatic former news anchor Kari Lake, who has a striking presence in front of a camera and could yet claim the Arizona governorship. Yes, CrossFit Barbie Marjorie Taylor Greene won convincingly against money-fire-from-The-Dark-Knight-incarnate Marcus Flowers — and Matt Gaetz beat off competition from Covid conspiracy crank Rebekah Jones. But they are a few small success stories on an overwhelmingly devastating night for the Grand Old Party.
MTG’s gal-pal Lauren Boebert, who looks poised to lose in Colorado, is cut from the same kind of reality television-friendly cloth as Trump. The problem for Trump is that most of his handpicked candidates have failed to pay off — and have in fact cost the GOP several important races.
To put it in plain and simple language that Mr. Trump can understand: the ratings for his show are sagging. They won’t tune in next time around. Whether the challenge he gives his contestants is to “stop the steal,” “berate the media” or “refuse to concede,” voters at large aren’t interested in watching. Trump’s celebrity politics lost the midterms. It’s time that his Political Apprentice followed in the footsteps of Westworld and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. The network has spoken: canceled.