Donald Trump’s first solo press conference as president was a disaster. The 77-minute ramblings of an elderly man has both sides of the aisle worried. Reporters and pundits and supporters and the opposition are confused. What was that?
It was what the president wanted.
Trump knows what he’s doing. The most revealing aspect of the press conference wasn’t about Russia or Electoral College results or the Congressional Black Caucus. It was about narratives and Trump’s current opponent: the media.
Consider the following exchange from Thursday’s newser:
QUESTION: “When you call it ‘fake news,’ you’re undermining confidence in our news media.”
TRUMP: “No, no. I do that. Here’s the thing. OK. I understand what you’re — and you’re right about that, except this. See, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad. And sometimes I’ll say, ‘Wow, that’s going to be a great story.’ And I’ll get killed.”
Trump is telling you everything you need to know. He understands roles better than anyone covering his press conference.
From his presidential announcement to today, Trump has succeeded in a way no other modern politician, let alone president, ever has. How? He understands television narratives.
Trump is a better storyteller than politician, businessman, builder or author. He tells stories like a professional wrestler. He defeated the GOP field and Hillary Clinton as a heel (heels are bad guys, good guys are faces). To him, he’s still fighting. And he’s still winning.
Trump is in the WWE Hall of Fame. At this point, it’s no longer surprising or even weird. The sitting president of the United States of America has strong pro wrestling connections. To Trump, sports entertainment and presidential politics are the same thing. In both worlds, it’s all about storytelling.
So who is believing Trump’s stories? His base. And when the POTUS has the House and Senate in his favor, all he needs to do is please the base. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 84 percent of Republicans are happy with the sitting president.
If you’re a wrestler at the top of the card who’s able to sell your story and please 42 percent of all viewers and audience members, you’re going to keep your gimmick. You’re going to keep your story.
If presidential politics is no different than professional wrestling, the best way to defeat an opponent is to craft a better narrative. This goes for reporters as well as opposing politicians.
When Trump refers to CNN as, “Very Fake News,” the news network is considered an opponent. Why? Every good wrestler needs a good opponent.
He needs someone or something to push against. Trump understands this. He even let us know why. Here’s another seemingly throwaway line from the press conference worth noting: “The public gets it, you know. Look, when I go to rallies, they turn around, they start screaming at CNN.”
Whether you’re a reporter or a politician who wants to understand how a WWE Hall of Famer is still winning (fun fact: he is still winning because he’s still the president of the United States of America), you don’t even have to leave Capitol Hill to find out how this works.
On Tuesday, former WWE CEO Linda McMahon was confirmed to head the Small Business Administration. She breezed through the nomination process with an 81-19 vote. Unlike other nominees, she’s remarkably qualified for her position.
Linda and husband Vince turned the World Wrestling Federation from a small mom-and-pop shop into a publicly traded billion-dollar company. How did they sell a fake sport to the masses? They know how to tell stories.
You know about Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock because of the stories they told, not their ring abilities.
Trump won the highest office in the land because of the stories he told, not his record. Or facts. Facts don’t matter in wrestling or storytelling. Having an outlet to tell the story? That matters.
Another revealing part of our president that may be overlooked is his affection for the spotlight. Unprompted, Trump said the following: “Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.’ I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But — but I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.”
He’s not lying. Moments after the press conference wrapped, pundits across all networks said he ranted and raved. Which was true. And he had a good time doing it.
To Trump, the media is his current opponent. The best way to bring down a wrestler is to act like a wrestler.
Take it from one of wrestling’s greats: Rowdy Roddy Piper, who told the media how to deal with other wrestlers.
In one of his most beloved “Piper’s Pit” segments, Piper turned on his guest, attacked him and closed the segment, declaring, “Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions.”
That’s what Trump did during the press conference. That’s what Very Fake News can do, too.
Brandon Wetherbee is the co-author of “The Donald: How Trump Turned Presidential Politics Into Pro Wrestling” and co-host of the podcast “Great American Bash.”