“You’re fired!” was the reality show refrain of the now president of the United States, Donald Trump. So when, on the campaign trail, candidate Trump said, “I alone can fix it,” with “it” meaning whatever was ailing the country and each one of its citizens, it was easy to for someone looking for answers to transfer his my-way-or-the-highway TV decisiveness to Oval Office success.
Could “The Apprentice” boss have bought into his own hype on the way to the White House, forgetting the behind-the-scenes writers and producers, and the reality of life after the director yells, “Cut”?
If recent confusion wrangling Team Trump is any indication, that answer would be “Yes.” (Omarosa, a veteran of both “shows,” famously said during the 2016 campaign that critics and detractors would have to “bow down” to Trump, showing she also has trouble letting go of the drama.)
One sure thing any TV hand knows is ratings, how a show can earn decent numbers and still get canceled when it loses the desirable key demographic groups that may vary according to show, network and target audience, but always include the viewers advertisers crave, the ones who buy a lot of stuff.
His latest poll numbers show the president’s popularity holding at about 39 percent, but some of those key supporters recently have stopped buying what the Trump administration is selling.
Though rank-and-file fans have not gone anywhere, leaders of groups Trump depended on — from the military to law enforcement to an increasing number of Republicans (and after his off-key Jamboree remarks, the less said about patriotic Boy Scouts the better) — are breaking ranks. Perhaps they are pondering past traditions, legacies to come and another president who complained about the media and phony scandals almost up to the moment he waved goodbye.
Trump may have held sway in the big chair when wrangling backbiting celebrities and hopeful contestants, but when dealing with global friends and foes and a public that wants results, threats and ultimatums don’t clear up a thing. As Trump watches many he thought were in his corner slowly back away, or at least hedge their bets, those tactics are far from foolproof.
Doubts from the military
Trump loves the military, he will tell you, and he appointed generals and former generals to his Cabinet and staff. This was despite his cruel criticism of the service of Vietnam War veteran, former Navy pilot and prisoner of war John McCain. As a candidate, Trump also maligned Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose soldier son Humayun Khan was killed in Iraq, after the Gold Star parents criticized the GOP nominee at an appearance at the Democratic National Convention last year.
After his Twitter statement about banning transgender troops, it should not have come as a surprise when not just rights activists but also the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a letter to the military service chiefs, said the policy would not change until new rules were issued from the White House and secretary of Defense. “In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” the letter read.
When your military depends on volunteers, it’s not particularly prudent to push those who have sacrificed and made that choice out the door.
A group of retired military officers spoke out against Trump’s ban, and joining them were conservative GOP lawmakers, including McCain. And, in a twist worthy of an “Apprentice” feud, McCain delivered an electric moment worthy of any TV cliffhanger when he cast the “no” vote to derail the Republican attempts to overhaul the country’s health insurance landscape.
Two female Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — made that vote possible with their own opposition to the GOP plan, despite pressure and threats of electoral and economic retribution. That two women held the power must have been galling for the president who had bragged in a videotape about his disrespectful treatment and judgments of women.
Et tu, police leaders?
But Trump must be particularly puzzled by the rebuke from law enforcement leaders, after many in a recent Long Island audience visibly and vocally approved of his remarks to the Suffolk County Police Department, urging officers not to “be too nice” when dealing with innocent-until-proven-guilty suspects. It was just a joke, according to Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, though the family of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal injury during a “rough ride” in a Baltimore police van, and plenty of other Americans probably saw no humor in it.
Trump channeled former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, an early Trump ally who has already been replaced by less problematic and more photogenic supporting players, in front of a department under federal oversight after allegations of discrimination against immigrant and Latino citizens its members are sworn to protect.
Police leaders in Suffolk County quickly responded, saying, “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.” They were followed by criticism of Trump’s sentiments from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Police Foundation, departments from Los Angeles to New Orleans and the Acting Drug Enforcement Administration head Chuck Rosenberg, who emailed staff that President Trump had “condoned police misconduct,” before reiterating the department’s core values.
When contestants made excuses on “The Apprentice,” Trump’s brand meant calling them to account, and accepting few “just joking” or only “helping my son, Donald Jr.” type excuses.
While chief of staff John F. Kelly, the new “showrunner” and retired Marine general, may shift the supporting players and bring some order to prevent a White House rerun of recent chaos, his biggest job may be bringing back those key viewers the commander in chief counted on.
Even the ratings of “The Apprentice” eventually came down to earth.
Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.