NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s business ventures have made him billions, but his latest money-making idea is a non-starter.
In interviews this week, the bombastic presidential candidate is touting his ratings-grabbing popularity and suggesting he should be paid to show up for interviews.
He’s even toying with the idea that CNN should make a $10 million donation to charity if the network wants him to take part in its upcoming debate.
“They should all pay me for this,” Trump, who is used to getting paid for having his name associated with everything from hotels to mattresses, told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m doing this for nothing.”
Television networks, however, generally do not pay for interviews.
Don’t worry, this story isn’t going to burst Trump’s bubble. He’s been in the television business for years and knows how it works.
But he’s also smart enough to know that he has a lot of leverage thanks to his proven ratings magnetism.
Earlier this month, as he complained about aggressive questioning at the August 6 debate on Fox News, he hinted at the possibility that he might skip Fox’s next debate in November.
And this week he told Time magazine, in a cover story published on Thursday, that he’s been mulling a “donation” idea for the forthcoming September 16 debate on CNN.
“Here’s my question: So if I go to CNN and I say, Look, you’re going to have a massive audience, and if I say to them, I want $10 million for charity, nothing for myself, what happens? I’m not showing up, right?”
Trump suggested that he could say to CNN: “I’m not showing up unless you give $10 million to cancer, to this, to that. You pick 10 great charities, $1 million per.”
CNN, the parent of this web site, declined to comment on Thursday.
But any payment from a media company to a candidate (or on behalf of a candidate) would raise all sorts of red flags, from basic journalistic questions about fairness to legal questions about political donations.
When Trump agrees to be interviewed or attend a debate, he receives something else in lieu of a check: exposure.
If the polls are any indication, the exposure is proving to be very valuable for Trump.
Trump’s point is that his presence on the debate stage is sure to elevate the ratings for CNN’s event and all of the other ones he attends in the fall.
No one disputes that. Fox’s debate averaged 24 million viewers, three times as many viewers as any of the Republican primary debates in the 2011-2012 political campaign.
But some TV experts dispute just how much of that 24 million total should be attributed to Trump. The 5 p.m. undercard debate on Fox, after all, averaged 6 million viewers, well above the 2011-2012 norms, and Trump wasn’t there.
That said, the “Trump bump,” as some news outlets have started calling it, is a real phenomenon.
When Trump appeared on NBC’s “Meet The Press” last Sunday, he predicted his presence would generate the program’s best ratings in years. On Thursday the numbers came in, and it proved to be the most-watched “Press” in a year and a half.
Similarly, CNN’s heavily promoted prime time interview of Trump was the most-watched program on CNN on Wednesday, according to Nielsen data.