Many attributed Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 partly to the media’s obsession with the real estate billionaire and reality television star. His popularity continued to grow throughout the four years in office, evidenced by the tens of millions of followers on social media and the record number of votes—74 million—cast for an incumbent president.
But in the aftermath of the election, Trump lost his social media megaphone and the media attention that comes with being the president of the most powerful country in the world. The former president committed to continuing his involvement in politics, raising the question of what, if anything, he should do in order to stay top-of-mind with voters, influential with the Republican Party, and of interest to the news media.
Some argue the former president doesn’t have to do much to remain popular due to the success of his agenda, which will inevitably be viewed in contrast with the policies of the administration of President Joe Biden.
“He is going to remain popular because his agenda and his policies were successful,” Jim McLaughlin, Trump’s former pollster, told The Epoch Times.
“I don’t think he has to do a lot. I think in a lot of ways, sometimes less is more. Here’s a guy who’s been out of office now since January 20, almost two months now, and the media is obsessed with him.”
Cable news ratings have declined across the board after Trump left office, with the only bump in viewership occurring due during the impeachment trial in February. As a result, the media’s interest in Trump may not be limited strictly to his newsworthiness.
While some believe that “less is more,” others think that in order to stay popular, relevant, and influential, the former president will have to continue to be actively engaged, including by commenting on the policies of the Biden administration.
“Barack Obama killed the old tradition of being silent,” Rich Baris, the director of Big Data Poll, told The Epoch Times. “He opened the door for Trump, and people expect that now from him.”
Baris referenced Trump’s response to Biden’s pandemic anniversary speech, in which the former president urged people to remember that it was his administration that fast-tracked the discovery, approval, manufacture, and distribution of the CCP virus vaccine.
Baris believes Trump needs to go beyond merely staying engaged, and change some of the people he seeks advice from.
“There’s really no polite way to say this—he’d better have some better people around him than the people he had before the election and in the immediate aftermath of the election,” Baris said. “Any leader is only as good as the people that they surround themselves with and the data that they deliver to the leader.”
Baris recommended that Trump not waste the political capital he now has by doling out endorsements indiscriminately.
“The power of endorsement will get diluted after a while,” Baris said. “Wasting an endorsement on a certain senator that probably was going to be reelected anyway, doesn’t particularly like you … that is a waste of an endorsement. It’s a waste of political capital.”
Whichever path Trump chooses, he will have to deal with a handicap he didn’t have on the campaign trail for the 2016 election or during most of his term at the White House: the account bans by Twitter and Facebook, which severed a direct line of communication with tens of millions of followers.
According to Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former Trump White House official, the social media bans are inconsequential because Trump won’t have trouble connecting with voters once he is ready.
“I don’t know how much that matters at the end of the day. Because when he so chooses, he’s obviously going to be able to get his message out,” Surabian told The Epoch Times. “While annoying, I think it’s a little bit overstated how much the social media stuff matters.
“He’s always going to get media attention. No matter how much the media hates him, they’re always going to cover and nothing will change that. He got an outsized amount of media attention before he was president. He got it before he ran for president. And he’s going to get it post-presidency. That’s just a reality.”
Trump’s signature rallies could be one way the former president cuts through the social media blockade. The popular events are a media magnet to generate a chain reaction of social media activity as attendees share their clips and photos of the event.
Surabian said he’d be shocked if Trump doesn’t get the rallies going again. The former president’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 28 resembled a typical rally and generated the kind of media ratings no other Republican can lay claim to. Fox, which aired the entire speech, set a Sunday ratings record. More than 30 million people streamed the speech online, by one estimate.
“The press is going to be craving for Donald Trump a lot more than Donald Trump will be craving for the press,” McLaughlin said.
“He has all the right enemies. He’s got the radical left. He’s got the establishment. He’s got the news media. He’s got Big Tech. Those people are not popular on the right and in the center-right coalition.”