President-elect Donald Trump is set to govern the same way he got elected: by dominating the news coverage and driving the discussion.
Throughout the campaign, Trump touted his success as a businessman as his main qualification for running the government. But he used his skills as an entertainer and reality TV star to bond with his base, grab headlines and saturate cable news.
Consider how Trump dealt this week with potentially embarrassing rumours that high-profile entertainers — his fellow celebrities — are refusing to perform at his inauguration next month. Through sources, he in effect said, "Who needs them?"
Trump doesn't want the party to be "over the top." Instead he wants it to be "strictly traditional." The thing he is "obsessed" with is delivering results for the American people. "It's almost as January 20 doesn't really matter to him, he's looking forward to January 21 — his first real work day in the White House," one Trump source is quoted as saying.
None of this originally appeared in some Washington political publication. The story instead was published on TMZ, the entertainment gossip website.
It's hard to believe that Trump is uninterested in the details of his inauguration, a television event, much less that he is "strictly traditional." But the willingness to feud with boycotting celebrities and push a contrary narrative in an unconventional outlet is vintage Trump.
"Star power is a helpful attribute for a president to have," said Kenneth T. Walsh, author of the book Celebrity in Chief: A History of the Presidents and the Culture of Stardom. "If harnessed properly, star power can draw positive attention to a president, increase a president's popularity, and focus the public and the media on his or her agenda."
"Star power also can create curiosity about a presidential candidate and give a candidate the opportunity to stir up and maintain media and public interest," Walsh added.
All this fits Trump well. He won the presidency while his campaign spent a little more than half as much money as Hillary Clinton's because he amassed nearly $2 billion more in free media coverage. Even after the election, he has continued to have the press chasing his every tweet.
Trump has turned the transition process into a version of "The Celebrity Apprentice," parading prospective Cabinet appointees in front of the cameras in the lobby of Trump Towers. Sometimes bona fide celebrities show up, such as when the president-elect bumped shoulders with rapper Kanye West in front of the cameras last week.
"I wanted to meet with Trump today to discuss multicultural issues," West tweeted afterward. "These issues included bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago."
"I feel it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future President if we truly want change," he added.
Some reporters pointed out the meeting with West came shortly after Trump postponed a press conference on how he would approach conflicts of interest with his businesses while president. This suggests Trump can use his show biz instincts to distract as well as to enthrall.
"Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump benefited from this dynamic because both attracted special media and public attention, at first, as novelty candidates who were already familiar to millions of Americans," said Walsh. "They eventually expanded on their initial fame, but the initial celebrity was a springboard to their success."
Even presidents who have never been in employed in the entertainment industry have utilized their star power to great effect. Outgoing President Obama was introduced to the American people through a successful primetime television address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. His own nominating convention featured 13 Greek columns. Like Trump, Obama held mass rallies.
During the 2008 campaign, John McCain mocked Obama's fame in a television ad. McCain compared his Democratic rival to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. "He's the biggest celebrity in the world," the narrator said of Obama in the spot, which ran in 11 battleground states. "But is he ready to lead?"
"John F. Kennedy also was to some extent famous before he ran for president in 1960," Walsh noted. "As I said in the book, Kennedy's father was a Hollywood producer who understood the importance of fame, and he built up his son's celebrity as a rising political star. JFK expanded on it during 1960 campaign and during his time in office."
Obama and Bill Clinton were also frequently seen with famous actors and musicians throughout their time in office. Secretary of State John Kerry dispatched singer-songwriter James Taylor to Paris after a terrorist attack.
That's something Trump hasn't been able to replicate despite his many relationships with famous people, as he has often run afoul of the Hollywood left since entering politics. The celebrities who appeared at the Republican convention were largely past their prime, like actor Scott Baio. And Trump was unable to pull off his planned night of "winners" featuring star quarterbacks Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.
In fact, Brady had to go dark on whether he voted for Trump at all. Even the man who succeeded Trump at the helm of "Celebrity Apprentice," fellow Republican celebrity former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, didn't cast his ballot for Trump in November.
"I don't think Trump's appearance with Kanye West is a sign that the presidency will make more celebrities associate with President Trump," Walsh said. "The inauguration ceremonies will be a good test of this, but my sense is that Trump has become too toxic in the show-business community for this to happen."
Yet just as Trump got a lot of attention for his public spats with Rosie O'Donnell, he is able to use even snubs to his benefit. Trump even boasted that his star power was greater than that of Hillary Clinton's celebrity surrogates.
"I hear we set a new record for this building," Trump said at a campaign rally. "And by the way, I didn't have to bring J-Lo and Jay-Z, the only way she gets anybody. I'm here all by myself … Just me, no guitar, no piano, no nothing."
"Trump was a success in business," said a Republican strategist. "And even bigger success in show business. What's that old saying about Washington being like Hollywood?"