For Trump, the reality show never ended

To observers, including one previous applicant to the reality show The Apprentice, Trump continues to be a showman even during his bid for the White House.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

On July 21, 2016, Donald Trump formally accepted the Republican nomination for the US presidency.

In the winter of 2005, Waleed Rashid thought he had what it took to be Donald Trump’s apprentice.

At 25, Rashid — who emigrated from Soviet-occupied Afghanistan to the United States with his family in the mid-1980s — had a master’s degree in business administration, a tech start-up and years of business experience under his belt.

Most importantly though, he never missed an episode of The Apprentice, Trump’s reality television programme, which debuted to massive viewership the year prior.

Rashid, who admitted to never watching much television, would sit rapt as Trump and his team of advisers doled out challenge after challenge to two teams of eager young professionals desperate to impress the fast-talking real estate titan.

“I wanted to understand why everyone – Trump, the contestants, everyone – did what they did,” Rashid said.

In 2005, Waleed Rashid tried out to be a contestant on The Apprentice. July 24, 2016. [TRT World]

Recognising the intensity of his engagement with the programme, friends and family encouraged Rashid to try out for the show, so he did.

When he filled out the online application at the end of 2005, he had few expectations.

Within a few weeks, Rashid received a phone call from producers at NBC, the network that aired The Apprentice.

‘Taliban’ contestant

The phone call turned into a phone interview, which eventually led to an in-person sit-down with producers at the NBC bureau in San Francisco.

At the time, Rashid was eager to join the cast.

“I didn’t necessarily trust Trump’s business judgment, even then, but I was fascinated by the whole thing.”

In the years preceding the premiere of The Apprentice, Rashid like most people of his generation, had little sense of Trump’s personality or experiences outside the tabloid headlines his two divorces and three marriages had earned.

Years ago, Rashid said he attempted to read The Art of the Deal, the 1987 New York Times bestseller that drove producer Mark Burnett to approach Trump with the idea for the show. Rashid wouldn’t make it past the first few pages.

“Literally one of the first things he said was that everyone in business has to learn to play golf.”

He never picked up the book again.

He may have doubted Trump’s value as a mentor but Rashid was still excited by the opportunity to test his limits as a businessman.

“Could I last all those weeks and make it through those tasks,” he wondered.

But the producers, it seemed, were more interested in casting standard reality television archetypes, than professional businesspeople.

After all, the franchise’s breakout star, Omarosa Manigault – who appeared in three seasons – was a combative and divisive figure who would go on to be given the title of “most hated reality TV star of all time.”

Looking back on the audition process, Rashid realised the two-part interview, totalling an hour, focused almost entirely on his personal life.

“They asked me things like: ‘How do you feel about women in business’ or ‘Do you believe a glass ceiling exists’ or ‘What is your connection to Afghanistan’.”

Rashid answered honestly, something he now believes he shouldn’t have done.

“I think they wanted me to play ‘the Taliban’ character for them, but that’s not who I am and that’s not what my family is.”

Producers told Rashid they appreciated the fact that he was able to maintain a connection to his religion and homeland while still embracing US culture, but he never heard back from them.

“Had I answered differently I probably would have been cast.”

Trump, the candidate

Rashid only occasionally followed Trump over the next 11 years.

That was until June 16, 2015, when Trump formally announced his bid for the presidency of the United States.

Like millions of others in the US, Rashid was in disbelief at Trump’s decision to enter the already crowded field of Republican or GOP hopefuls.

“If he truly wanted to be a politician, why didn’t he start smaller; a governorship or even the Mayor of New York. Who starts their political career by running for the highest office in the land?”

He took Trump’s announcement the only way he knew how, as a publicity stunt at best and a joke at worst.

“I didn’t think he would last through the first round of debates.”

But Trump surprised everyone.

Just over a year later on July 19, 2016, having survived five months of primaries, countless debates and constant controversy, Trump officially became the Republican Party’s nominee at the convention in Ohio.

Throughout the course of his campaign, Trump’s rhetoric has put US citizens like Rashid in a confounding position.

Trump, the divider

A decade prior, friends and family saw Rashid as a shoo-in to become Trump’s apprentice. Today, the 36-year-old Afghan-Muslim immigrant who has worked with Afghan and Syrian refugees in Greece is the embodiment of everything Trump’s rhetoric is meant to oppose.

In December 2015, Trump called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States. That was followed by a February declaration that he had “absolutely no problem” with “looking Syrian children in the face” and telling them “they can’t come” to the United States.

It was precisely these sorts of statements that led the Islamic Human Rights Organisation, a London-based Muslim advocacy group, to name Trump their “Islamophobe of the Year”.

Father’s fortunes

Since 1975, when he first began purchasing high-priced New York real estate, Trump has tried to downplay the influence his father – a real estate developer in the Big Apple – had on his career.

According to an investigation in the Village Voice, when Trump couldn’t convince New York City officials to grant him a tax subsidy to purchase the Grand Hyatt Hotel, city officials only gave in because of the years of donations to the city from his father.

Trump also took advantage of the head of the Hyatt hotel chain’s absence – he was in the Nepalese mountains – to push forward a disputed clause in the contract that was considered unfavourable to the Hyatt.

“If he becomes president, you will see the kinds of nepotism and corruption that will make you feel like you’re in the middle of Kabul, not Washington,” said Rashid.

Trump, the brand

To Rashid, Trump’s highly charged, divisive bombast is merely a carefully calculated exacerbation of the public persona he has crafted through the decades.

Like many others, Rashid believes that Trump the presidential candidate is as much the showman as Trump the reality TV star.

“This is just another brand extension for him.”

The Art of the Deal begins with a declaration that Trump is driven by the “poetry” and art of deal making, not the money, but the ghostwriter who followed Trump for months in the 1980s, flatly rejects the statement he helped write.

In an interview with The New Yorker, Tony Schwartz said three things drive Trump: “money, praise and celebrity.”

Such theories also fall in line with Trump’s own moneymaking endeavours following the launch of The Apprentice.

In 2005, he started the for-profit education company Trump University, which has been the subject of numerous lawsuits and an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office.

That was followed by his short-lived eponymous steak line. There was even Trump-branded water.

Donald Trump holds a bottle of his new line of vodka as he arrives for the Trump Vodka launch party by Drinks America hosted by Trump at Les Deux on January 17, 2007 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.

Marco Rubio, Republican Senator from Florida, brought these ventures up during a March debate.

“Ever heard of Trump Steaks or Trump Vodka …take a look at Trump Steaks. Trump Steaks is gone. You have ruined these companies,” Rubio said after Trump claimed to have given employment to tens of thousands of people throughout his career.

To people who have a more cynical take on his candidacy intentions, Trump’s campaign offered him the best possible branding opportunity: guaranteed mentions of his name – upon which he has built his empire – across US and international media for nearly a year straight.

In conversations with people close to Trump’s family, Rashid said it became evident his candidacy was originally envisioned as nothing more than another business endeavour.

“He wants to write a book about the entire experience and make as much money as the Clintons did with theirs.”

That may not be a bad business strategy.

Trumps candidacy has left many people to wonder about his intentions. [Reuters]

Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee, received an estimated $8 million advance for her 2003 memoir Living History. Her husband and former president, Bill, was reported to have made $10 million for his own memoir, My Life.

Mark Cuban, the billionaire investor, has a similar view of Trump’s intentions.

In an email to CNN, Cuban said an election defeat would actually be a boon to Trump.

“He would be a former candidate who has a winning and compelling story. He may even get sympathy from people. That would be Huuuge for him.”

Cuban believes the power of that narrative could lead to a ten-fold increase in Trump’s net worth.

Rich man, poor man

Trump may have built his name on being “very rich,” but his campaign has taken on a schizophrenic view of that wealth.

Throughout the course of the campaigns, Trump, who claims to be worth nearly $9 billion dollars, has been trying to pass himself off as some sort of outsider among Washington’s power elite.

Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, returned to this narrative during her July 21 introduction of her father at the Republican National Convention.

Per Ivanka’s telling, the election has transformed her father from “the people’s champion” into “the people’s nominee.”

“On every one of his projects, you’ll see him talking to the super, the painter, the engineers,” Ivanka said of her father’s outreach to the workers on his job sites.

Wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin (C) watches as Vince McMahon, (R) World Wrestling Entertainment president, pushes on the nose of Donald Trump (L) in 2007. Trump and McMahon each had a wrestler represent them in the Battle of the Billionaires match.

However, the buildings Trump has constructed have also been the source of anger and pain.

In 1981, a 35-year-old Trump purchased a 14-storey building facing Central Park, which he planned to demolish and build over.

To do so, he made life miserable for a group of rent-stabilised tenants in the building.

According to court documents filed by the tenants, Trump cut heat and water in the building and even considered moving homeless people into the premises.

One tenant alleged Trump even allowed "a rodent infestation of the premises."


His eponymous chain of hotels and casinos has filed for corporate bankruptcy four times between 1991 and 2009.

In a September 2015 debate, Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, raised this fact, to which Trump responded with his usual gusto.

“Hundreds of companies” have filed for bankruptcy, he said.

However, Rashid said Trump’s defence that he used “the law four times,” is obfuscating the fact that several high-profile Wall Street banks won’t do business with him.

According to a Newsweek investigation, that is likely the result of his behaviour during the negotiations to settle those debts. Trump was reported to have spent more than $200,000 on an engagement ring for his then fiance Marla Maples, while negotiating his way out of tens of millions of dollars in corporate debt.

The Wall Street Journal reports Citigroup Inc, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have all been known to avoid doing business with him.

Still, Trump’s penchant for hyperbole and dramatic declarations seems to have distracted the public from these facts.

A Gallup poll conducted in February 2016, found that 22 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents listed Trump’s reputation as a “good businessman” as the most important reason for voting for him.

A further 64 per cent of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents in another Gallup poll said Trump was best suited of all the GOP candidates to address the issues of economy, job creation and the federal deficit.

However, with all the talk of Trump the billionaire businessman, critics have pointed out there was surprisingly little discussion of Trump’s economic policy during the RNC.

That point was picked up by The Intercept’s Zaid Jilani, who said on the night Republicans formalised Trump’s nomination, both the candidate and the economy received scant attention from the politicians who spoke on July 20.

Such criticisms are likely two-pronged.

On the surface they highlight the belief that for such a self-proclaimed successful businessman, Trump seemed to lack any coherent economic policy.

But the attacks hit harder. Below the surface is a not so subtle allusion to the fact that Trump’s antics have left many Republicans looking to distance themselves from the man who will represent their party in the general election.

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the July 20 headliner, only referred to Trump twice throughout his entire speech.

The biggest snub to Trump came on Wednesday, when Ted Cruz, the last of Trump’s competitors to bow out of the race, refused to endorse the Republican Party’s nominee for president.

Instead, Cruz, who only spoke Trump’s name once during his 23-minute speech, urged the delegates gathered to “vote your conscience” in November.

To Rashid, the reason behind the omissions is obvious.

“If you look at how he’s run his own businesses you would see he isn’t the businessman who will somehow save the US economy,” Rashid said of the man whose reality competition show he once watched religiously in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the business world.

Instead, Trump’s campaign has provided Rashid, and the world, a master class in branding and showmanship.

Travelling between three different countries throughout the course of the primary and convention season means Rashid only occasionally kept up with the circus this year’s race for the White House has become.

Even from afar, however, for Rashid this election season has taught him one thing about Trump, that for him, the show, reality or not, will never end.

Author: Ali M Latifi

TRTWorld and agencies