As Father's Day specials go, it was hardly stirring. But it was very Trumpian.
Donald Trump Jr., interviewing President Trump on his online talk show Thursday night, debuted a new campaign ad that absurdly claims that Osama bin Laden — who U.S. forces killed in 2011 — had endorsed Joe Biden for president.
"That's your Father's Day present," son said to father. "Congratulations."
The president nodded as if he had just won a medium-priced set of steak knives. So went his first interview on "Triggered," which appears on an online "newscast" channel from the president's reelection campaign that attempts to mimic a cable news network.
If Trump owned a media company, which advisors say he discussed when he believed he would lose the 2016 election, it might look something like "Team Trump Online," the current production. And if he or his family start one after he leaves the White House, this could be the pilot.
“This is the warm-up act," said Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor and the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. "There's nothing he would like more than to throw his name on a channel, a digital brand."
Not only is the campaign able to test an audience and gather valuable data from supporters for a future product. Trump doesn't have to pay for it.
“Being able to do all these things for your image on somebody else's dime does suggest that Donald Trump is a master of the art of the deal,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, who has researched and written about media and politics for decades.
Biden, also hoping to reach supporters during the coronavirus shutdown, has a podcast called "Here's the Deal" and appears at times on YouTube. But the Trump channel is on almost nightly, while Biden's shows are intermittent.
At times, the Trump channel resembles Trump-friendly media like Fox News or the more conspiratorial One America News Network. It relies on hosts who amplify Trump's tweets, denigrate the national media, and ignore or explain away facts that challenge the president's falsehoods.
But the content on Trump TV is purer, if a bit clunkier, than even on avowedly pro-Trump OANN. And the hosts are closer to Trump's inner circle.
They include Donald Jr., his girlfriend and former Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle, the president's daughter-in-law Lara Trump, and a small group of campaign officials and surrogates in the tight-knit Trump family troupe.
Among them are Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager who is an outside advisor in the 2020 campaign; Mercedes Schlapp, a conservative activist who worked as a White House communications advisor; and Katrina Pierson, the campaign's most prominent Black spokesperson.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a question about whether the online channel might fit into Trump's future plans, or how he might use personal data gathered about supporters who sign up to watch.
Campaign officials said the shows, most of which debuted in April and May, draw an average audience of more than 1 million views on multiple digital platforms. Public Facebook data confirm that many of the shows have drawn audiences near or above 1 million.
The campaign would not say how long each viewer spends on a program, meaning some viewers may watch only a brief segment.
Some shows on the channel are geared toward military veterans, moms or other targeted voter groups such as Catholics, Evangelicals, Latinos and "Black Voices for Trump." Many of the hosts shift across programs.
"The Right View," is a kind of mirror image of "The View," the popular ABC daytime talk show hosted by women, which many Trump supporters revile for its liberal sensibility and harsh criticism of the administration.
“Wednesday just got better because the ladies are live, discussing the hottest topics of the week with you,” Lara Trump says at the top of "The Right View," which features a clip of Father Frank Pavone, another Trump booster, declaring that he sees "the evidence of the Holy Spirit working in the president.”
But unlike "The View," which has one conservative panelist to spark tension and debate, "The Right View" hosts never disagree as they review current events.
In a recent episode, they took turns blaming Biden "for the dangerous 'Defund the Police' movement." The former vice president has specifically rejected calls to defund police, proposing a ban on chokeholds and other reforms since police were charged with killing George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis, on May 25.
“Imagine what we would live in in Biden’s America — with open borders, no police and 'CornPop' on the radio,” Pierson said from a living room set with a fireplace.
"CornPop" refers to a story Biden has told about his confrontation, and subsequent reconciliation, with a Black gang leader who had that nickname in the 1960s.
Lara Trump laughed, and Guilfoyle, on a separate screen, smiled and said she can't get "CornPop" out of her head.
“It’s tasty,” Schlapp chimed in.
After more denouncing Biden, the panel played a clip of the ABC version of "The View" hosts interviewing Sen. Kamala Harris (D-San Francisco), which provided an opportunity for more patter and criticism.
Trump Jr.’s show, "Triggered," is more guest-dependent and more macho in tone. It gives a weekly platform to the Trump son who many see as the most likely heir to his father's political brand.
In a recent episode, Trump Jr. complained to former NFL running back Herschel Walker that the Trump family is unfairly attacked as racist.
“I’ve been called every name in the book. I’m racist. I’m an anti-Semite, whatever happens to be the narrative of the day they can sort of throw that at my family," Trump Jr. said.
He then recounted his family's friendship with Walker, who played for his father's team, the New Jersey Generals, in the early 1980s in the now defunct U.S. Football League.
"We joked once sort of about it, which was like, back in the day, people don’t know this, I was probably 6 years old when I traveled with your family to Disney World," Trump Jr. told Walker.
"If my father’s racist, he probably wasn’t going to let his son, his blond bowl-cut [son], hang out with — you know — an African American man, totally alone, for a week at a time in Disney World,” he added.
Walker responded by recalling a trip they took to the Bronx Zoo.
It's unclear if these shows boost support for Trump's reelection campaign, or even if they will keep airing once Trump accelerates his rally schedule.
If Trump loses to Biden in November, he may be too angry to start a news network, according to an outside advisor who was involved in the 2016 discussions involving a potential Trump TV operation.
The advisor, who requested anonymity to discuss a topic that involves Trump profiting from politics, said that in 2016 that Trump's advisors were "amazed" that Fox News, which they saw as impure in its fealty to Trump's brand of nationalism, had no serious competition on the right.
Fox's loyalty, the advisor said, "was to establishment [Republican National Committee] views rather than our nationalistic world view.”
Barry Bennett, another veteran of Trump's 2016 campaign, said Trump or Donald Jr. will have competition if they try to start a news company aimed at Trump's fervent base.
“There will be several,” he predicted, noting that the cost of production and delivery has dropped in the digital era.
Some competition could come from the celebrities that Trump helped create.
“Diamond and Silk, they're not going anywhere," Bennett said, referring to a pair of Trump supporters known for their own digital content. "They’ve got huge followings."