As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shook hands with moderator Chris Wallace and greeted their families after the end of Wednesday night’s presidential debate, the broadcast hosts delivered their verdict.
“All six of the 15-minute segments — total home runs for him,” said Cliff Sims. “I think this was really the performance that Donald Trump needed to grab that momentum going toward the election.”
His co-host, Boris Epshteyn, agreed: “He prosecuted the case against Hillary Clinton perfectly.”
As nearly every mainstream media outlet led with the fact that Trump had, in an unprecedented move, refused to promise he’ll accept the results of next month’s presidential contest, Sims and Epshteyn instead focused their attention on how well Trump performed. “You go point by point, he knocked it out of the park,” Sims said.
That’s because both men work for Trump’s campaign.
In what could be the first glimpses of a Trump-branded TV network that many have speculated could be the ultimate goal of Trump’s presidential run, they anchored a half-hour pre-debate show and an hour-and-a-half of post-debate coverage, right on Trump’s Facebook page.
The campaign-sanctioned broadcast included appearances by Trump’s children, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and advisers like retired Gen. Michael Flynn.
“This is a great thing, Boris, because we’ve talked many times kind of behind the scenes about the frustration with the media coverage,” Sims said at the beginning of the broadcast. “You can come here and hear it straight from us.”
By late Thursday morning, more than 8 million people had viewed at least part of the broadcast, which also included a feed of the debate.
The idea that Trump was interested in launching a cable channel, rather than (or perhaps in addition to) winning the White House, mostly existed as a rumor or theory this year. But it gained credence in recent days when the Financial Times, and later The New York Times, reported that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner “had conversations about the idea” with the head of an investment bank with a history of funding media deals.
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik recently theorized what the network could look like:
I think it’s important also to remember that Trump brought onboard to lead his campaign Steve Bannon, who had been the CEO of Breitbart the website and family of websites itself. I think that what they would try to do, were they to do this, would be to essentially go to the right or the alt-right of Fox News to outflank a Fox among conservatives with some, you know, nationalistic and populist rhetoric as well.
You could easily see Sean Hannity defecting from Fox News. And you could see them trying to divert some of that.
But as Folkenflik also pointed out, it’s tough to launch a new TV network. There’s no bigger name in television than Oprah Winfrey, and she struggled for years to get her OWN Network off the ground.
Glenn Beck’s online venture, The Blaze, is “hanging on there by its fingernails,” as Folkenflik put it.
And on a day when many people are comparing Trump’s threat to not concede to the way that former Vice President Al Gore accepted defeat at the end of the 2000 Florida recount, perhaps there’s another way in which Gore could serve as a cautionary tale to Trump.
Gore launched Current TV to much fanfare after he ended his political career. But the network struggled, and he ultimately sold its cable slots off to Al-Jazeera in 2013.