The former US president and current Republican frontrunner masterfully orchestrated the hype around his own arrest
Many folks may say that former President Donald Trump, the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the 2024 US presidential election, had it rough last week. Quite the contrary, Trump has had an absolutely spectacular week, at least in terms of boosting his brand and fending off his biggest threats. It goes to show that Trump is an absolute master in PR and may have some of the greatest political instincts of all time.
First, a disclaimer. Donald Trump is a terrible leader and was the most inept modern American president. This goes by virtually every standard, since he did more than anyone to dismantle the American imperial project from the inside (which was an unintended net positive from his presidency) and also gutted environmental regulations, took a battering ram to workers’ rights, botched the US federal Covid-19 response, and brought race relations to essentially a century low (which were all intended and very, very negative).
The Donald was able to unite labor organizations and finance capital against him by the end of the 2020 election cycle, which his followers suggest is a conspiracy against him. There is no conspiracy; it simply shows that he was uniquely bad at his job. Moreover, he’s also a threat to the basic stability of the US, thanks to his insane egotism and lack of any care for the facts. The US election was not stolen from Trump and no evidence suggests it was, and many of us saw what he was trying to do before it began.
Nothing, by the way, suggests that he’d do better a second time. Take his recent policy idea of a flat tariff on imports to the United States of 10%, which he calls a “ring around the collar” system meant to promote his ‘America First’ agenda. Such a thing will just make the US abandon its General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations, seeing Washington cut off from regular international trade.
But all of that being said, you have to give it to the man for being a savvy media operator. Trump gets invited to the Republican Party’s presidential debate but declines because he doesn’t want to legitimize the other candidates, plus he can’t control the questions or discussion there. Then he does an interview on X (previously Twitter) with former Fox host Tucker Carlson and that post gets over 250 million views.
The latest Republican debate had a reported 24 million viewers and is being seen as historic, with high ratings. If we’re generous to Trump and assume that almost all those who saw the post watched the interview, it means that over ten times as many people cared about his interview as about the debate. If we’re generous to the rest of the field and assume that the actual views of the interview were a fraction of that, it’s still at least clear that Trump was able to dampen the hype around the other candidates – especially Vivek Ramaswamy, who many saw as the winner.
Even if they wilfully ignored the success of the Trump interview, however, the other candidates didn’t even get to spread clips of themselves at the debate and Ramaswamy couldn’t do a victory lap because all anyone was talking about the next day was Trump’s arrest and his mugshot was out. Genius move. Not only did he use it in campaign emails but he returned to X for the first time in two years, posting his own mugshot, and breaking the internet. And let’s remember that he went to Georgia to get booked on these new charges voluntarily. So he clearly knew what he was doing!
Many of his supporters are applauding the “energy shift” that took place, with three indictments and now a fourth that’s being hyped, including a mugshot that was reversed into successful PR. But don’t be fooled; Trump planned this from the start. He knew exactly what he was doing and he did it well – reportedly raising a whopping $7.1 million since his mugshot dropped, a new record for his campaign.
What perhaps says most about why he is the unquestioned Republican frontrunner and such a masterful political candidate is that he is able to make everything bend to him at the most mind-bending, hypocritical levels.
For instance, the Republican Party is the political party of the police and their bootlickers in society. This is the political party whose supporters “support the blue” in every comment section depicting a cop brazenly murdering someone in cold blood. Yet somehow, Trump gets arrested, turns around and bad mouths the local sheriff’s department and district attorney, and takes an anti-government stance – and it still works.
With these latest moves, it feels more and more like it’s Trump’s world and we’re just living in it. Many are saying that his arrest has shown that rich white men are finally being held to account; at last, America’s two-tier legal system will end. That take is premature at best and utterly naive at worst, because, even if proven guilty, it’s still possible that Trump would just take a plea bargain and never see the inside of a prison cell. That’s probably how things will end.
But look at the narrative he is able to command now: many Americans, and many around the world, genuinely see things as Trump is spinning them. He ain’t going down quietly – not if his surreal PR knowhow can help it.