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Obama, the media or ambition: what gave rise to Donald Trump's political career?

No one gave the idea that Donald Trump might win serious consideration.

GOP 2016 Trump Tower Voices Source: Mark Lennihan

DONALD TRUMP’S RISE to the top of the American political system began with a quick descent – in the elevator of his multi-million dollar building.

In June 2015 in the lobby of the Trump Tower office block New York, supporters and journalists gathered to capture a moment that would have been pencilled in as a good story, but not a particularly significant one.

“We need somebody that literally will take this country and make it great again. We can do that,” Trump said.

“So ladies and gentlemen, I am officially running for president of the United States.”

Fast forward 18 months and Donald J Trump is now president-elect of the United States – but what was it that set the businessman, famed for his casinos, beauty pageants and reality TV show The Celebrity Apprentice, down the path of politics?

GOP 2016 Trump Source: Mary Altaffer

“Well handled”

Earlier this year at a gathering of politicians and journalists at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, President Obama criticised the media for the rise of Donald Trump, sarcastically remarking “I don’t want to spend too much time on The Donald. Following your lead, I want to show some restraint”.

This is a fierce criticism of how the media have handled the Trump candidacy that has been running for the length of the campaign.

The argument is that Donald Trump’s views should not be given air to spread, as the only reason he says them is for media attention and to raise his profile amongst the public.

In the wake of Trump’s win, people have even argued that balance in journalism isn’t applicable in the case of Donald Trump, as he’s fuelling a hateful agenda rather than a thoughtful debate.

At one point in the campaign, Trump had amassed more than twice the television airtime than all of his Republican opponents’ combined.

But some say the spark for Trump’s 2016 candidacy was actually Obama himself – five years earlier at the same annual event, the President gave the businessman a grilling over Trump’s conspiracy theories, his experience (or lack thereof), and his reality TV show The Celebrity Apprentice.

It’s important to note that this dinner occurred just after the ‘birther movement’, where a group of leading figures in America cast doubt over Obama’s American citizenship by suggesting that he wasn’t born in America and that his birth certificate was a fake.

Obama then released his ‘long form’ birth certificate, putting the accusations to bed.

Source: SuchIsLifeVideos/YouTube

At this event, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he took his chance to hit back at those who began the rumours, singling out the now president-elect:

“Donald Trump is here tonight! Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald.”

“And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter – like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac? (Laughter and applause)

“But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience (laughter.)

For example – no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice – (laughter) – at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team cooking did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks.
And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr Trump, recognised that the real problem was a lack of leadership.
And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. (Laughter and applause.)

“Well handled, sir. Well handled.”

The jokes didn’t end there. Obama went on to say that Trump, who briefly ran for the presidency in 2012, would certainly bring some change to the White House, before the following image popped up on the screen behind him.

Screenshot 2016-11-11 at 11.37.21 Source: MSNBC

Comedian Seth Myers picked up where Obama left off, saying:

Donald Trump has been saying he will run for president as a Republican – which is surprising, since I just assumed he was running as a joke.

Reports say that Trump was good-natured enough as the beginning, but eventually succumbed to ‘hunching forward with a frozen grimace’. According to The New York Times, after the dinner ended Trump quickly left, appearing bruised.

He was “incredibly gracious and engaged on the way in,” recalled Marcus Brauchli, then the executive editor of The Washington Post, but departed “with maximum efficiency.”

In another Washington Post interview, style writer Roxanne Roberts, who says she was seated next to Trump at the dinner, denied that he had reacted badly.

“It’s such a false narrative,” Trump told Roberts. “I had a phenomenal time. I had a great evening. I can handle criticism.”

Flirting with politics 

In truth, this had been a prize he’d been eyeing for a while.

Over the past ten years, Donald Trump has offered both financial and public support to the Republican Party in an effort to ‘get an in’, while the Grand Old Party indulged him, gave his the legitimacy that he craved, but were careful to keep him at arm’s length.

And Trump used every public appearance to elevate his position as a political force; announcing his bid for the presidency in 2011 (but withdrawing soon after), getting involved in political issues, until by 2016, he had established himself as a formidable figure.

Romney 2012 Source: AP/Press Association Images

One particular moment that shows the Republican party’s reluctance to be paired with Trump and his wealth, but also their desire to keep a man with Trump’s power on side.

In September 2011, Trump wanted to endorse Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential candidate, but Romney’s advisers feared that a questions and answers session with Trump could damage Romney’s campaign (information also based on polls, let it be noted).

So, according to The New Yorks Times, they convinced him that his endorsement was too important to be diluted with a ‘QnA’ session.

“The self-professed genius was just stupid enough to buy our ruse,” said Ryan Williams, a former spokesman for the Romney campaign.
While they agreed to hold the event in a Trump hotel, the campaign put up blue curtains around the ballroom when the endorsement took place, so that Romney did not appear to be standing “in a burlesque house or one of Saddam’s palaces,” Mr. Williams said.
On stage, as the cameras captured the moment, Romney seemed almost bewildered. “There are some things that you just can’t imagine happening in your life,” he told reporters as he took the podium, taking in his surroundings. “This is one of them.”

Trump’s campaign has been built on moments like these: incredulity at his candidacy, but ultimate acceptance because of his perseverance and financial power.

Every time people thought ‘this will be the last we’ll see of him’ seemed to accelerated his stature within the political world and even more so in the public, which in itself, seems like the most likely reason he ran.

Trump admitted himself that he had encountered many who doubted or dismissed him as a political force before now.

“I realised that unless I actually ran, I wouldn’t be taken seriously.”

Read: Building a giant wall, protecting gun owners and stopping immigration – here are the policies that got Trump elected

Read: ‘Fake news had nothing to do with Donald Trump’s victory’ – Mark Zuckerberg

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