Trump spent two and a half hours talking to The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker for their “I Alone Can Fix It” book out next Tuesday. For his book “Frankly We Did Win This Election,” Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender sat with Trump twice for a total of three hours. Trump even talked to Michael Wolff, who he threatened to sue to prevent the publication of a previous Wolff book detailing the inner working of his White House.
“Trump told his people that guy ― me ― gets big ratings, so let’s see him. For Trump, the goal is almost entirely the media attention. Good, bad, indifferent, doesn’t matter. I’m not the only author he has seen, but I would assume that I’m the most disliked author that he’s seen. But that doesn’t play into his conception of the world.”
“It’s not like or dislike. It’s not right or wrong. It’s what can you do for me? It’s just about answering his needs, desires and inclinations in the moment. So, here’s a guy, he sells a lot of books, why not? And it’s not as if you’re going there and actually having an exchange.”
What that passage — and Trump’s broader willingness to chat with these book authors — speaks to is this: Trump’s pillorying of the media as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people” is, actually, fake. It’s an affectation. A put-on. A way to virtue-signal to a Republican base that deeply distrusts the media that he is one of them.
But at heart, Trump loves the media. Or, maybe more accurately, understands he needs the media.
Remember that this is a man who invented a young employee named John Barron (it was Trump) who would call the gossip rags in New York City in the 1980s to plant blind items about women being interested in Trump. (Barron was Trump. Trump was Barron.)
And the man who wrote this in “The Art of the Deal”:
“I’m not saying that [journalists] necessarily like me. Sometimes they write positively, and sometimes they write negatively. But from a pure business point of view, the benefits of being written about have far outweighed the drawbacks. It’s really quite simple. If I take a full-page ad in the New York Times to publicize a project, it might cost $40,000, and in any case, people tend to be skeptical about advertising. But if the New York Times writes even a moderately positive one-column story about one of my deals, it doesn’t cost me anything, and it’s worth a lot more than $40,000.”
Trump, as Wolff rightly notes, is a purely transactional being. He is solely guided by a single calculation: Is this good or bad for me?
What is good in Trump’s world is relevance, and what is bad — a fate worse than death — is irrelevance. Being talked bad about is exponentially better in his calculation than not being talked about at all.
“Bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all,” he wrote in “The Art of the Deal.” “Controversy, in short, sells.”
Trump sat down with these book authors — and he would do it again — for a very simple reason: He wants to matter.
That’s a personality trait but also a business gambit. Trump, as The New York Times so ably demonstrated in acquiring years of his back taxes, is on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in personally guaranteed loans over the next few years. His revenue streams and brand are significantly diminished.
Given all of that, an ability — as Trump will undoubtedly cast it — to sell millions of books is an accomplishment he badly needs. And which, he knows, only these book authors can give him.