From real estate mogul to reality star to president, Donald Trump's career has seen many ups and downs over the years. As he basks in the glow of his recent campaign victory, it's easy for the public to forget that before he was the most unexpected political success story, he was viewed as little more than a punch line.
During tonight's episode of Frontline, Trump's unlikely rise from joke of the '90s to political powerhouse was explored in detail. According to the PBS documentary, the big turning point for Trump occurred when he took on the role Arnold Schwarzenegger now enjoys on The Apprentice. Prior to this reality TV gig, he was thought of as a manifestation of 1980s excesses — and a joke of a businessman. Remember, this is the guy who promised McDonalds' Grimace that "together, we could own this town."
Those interviewed for the Frontline special claim that public perception is everything to Trump, who desperately wants to be viewed as a winner. He could not tolerate the poor reputation he earned during the 1990s, so he worked hard to turn it around. For all his flaws, it's impossible to deny how savvy he is with the media — with his carefully constructed image on The Apprentice, he went from a laughingstock to a figure of admiration. He began to realize that this rise did not have to end with reality television.
According to Frontline, Trump eventually began to view fans of The Apprentice as more than mere viewers — he regarded them as potential voters. He even asked his contestants whether they'd consider voting for him if he ran for office. Viewers thought he was joking, but if Frontline's theory is correct, he already had a plan in motion by this point.
What's the takeaway of all this? Well, those reality shows we all love to hate are way more powerful than anybody ever expected. Trump's story is a clear warning: Do not discount the power of reality TV. Could Arnold Schwarzenegger be the next to snag the White House? Unlikely, given his birthplace... but then again, Trump's victory was widely regarded as not just unlikely, but impossible.
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