“Yes, yes,” the TV audience responded, as the Republican contender for President waved the crisp white papers holding his medical information over his head. His shirt cuff and cuff link, peeking out from underneath his suit sleeve, added to the magic, the visual excitement, of someone in possession of nothing as quotidian as a doctor’s note—but rather, a tantalizing surprise.
What do kids do when Daddy comes home from the office with an unexpected gift and waves it over his head? We jump up and down, trying to snatch it. “Yes, Daddy, we were good today! Please unwrap the presents! “
And that’s how Donald Trump used his much-hyped and snickered-at appearance on the Dr. Oz show to demonstrate the state of his television health.
It doesn’t take a doctor, or to play one on TV, to see that Trump’s mastery of the television medium is not only satisfactory, but in the supernormal range.
The scene played to all of his performing strengths. To begin with, most traditional political candidates would no sooner think of revealing their medical stats on Dr. Oz than they would plan to get a divorce on Judge Judy—it just seems embarrassing and preposterous, or, as Woody Allen said, “a travesty of a sham.” But Trump knows his terrain.
Oz had mentioned that his studio is like a doctor’s office, and Trump really ran with that. The way he presided over his fake board-room on “The Apprentice,” even though it was jerry-rigged and filled with stagehands and cameras, made everyone whose fate he was deciding feel a little intimidated. He became an expert at the timing of “You’re fired!” along with the pointer-finger shooting gesture, and it was always a kill.
By contrast with his appearances on the WWF, or in commercials over the years, which seemed at times desperate and embarrassing, Trump, thanks to his deal with NBC, has become a TV animal, a lion in his natural habitat of smoke-and-mirrors.
In this case, he had the instincts to sidle up to another king of the forest, a guy who like himself is now a Republican and has also built a television empire. Most importantly, he let Oz, the esteemed heart surgeon turned weight-loss-drug salesman, be the alpha in the conversation.
It was the opposite of “Don’t look at the man behind the curtain!” Rather, it was “Open me up, Doc! Nothing to hide here!”
Instead of something fake and staged, two guys discussing the bullet points of a report by the doctor who had previously written that all of Trump’s tests were “positive,” it came off that Trump had handed Oz something very big and juicy.
These two were clearly comfortable with each other and tag-teaming it.
“Let’s have a round of applause for your testosterone levels!” the good doctor did not say, but while quickly assessing the paper, he was very complimentary about the numbers. And we know that nothing gets Trump more excited than good ratings and numbers. That’s what he likes to talk about and deal in, no matter what the subject at hand, because for him, it translates into winning and losing.
Though the doc was not in a power position behind a desk, Donald played the supplicant, the everyman patient on the TV set, brilliantly. Keeping his head low, trying to be humble, he scraped his shoes and aw-shucks-ed his way around Dr. Oz’s exaltations around some of the better numbers, like about Trump's cholesterol (though he didn’t say he takes a statin) and his low blood pressure.
“I’ve always had luck with my blood pressure,” he noted. (And Trump tried not to seem like a proud parent when the favorable T-score was referenced.)
I’ve written before about Trump’s use of simple repetition. His new management team has kept him more on-message and -prompter, and this has changed a bit in recent days. But still, he’s not one to get into the weeds on policy or anything else.
After responding sanctimoniously to Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” (an unusual move for her, since she has never attacked his followers before, nor used a premade—if 19th-century-sounding—ad slogan) he couldn’t even repeat the array of polysyllabic words she used in labeling his often-phobic supporters.
He mispronounced “xenophobic” while trying to rattle off the list at a rally, and the crowd loved it, because they didn’t understand what the hell they were being called, either.
As a political candidate, he is endlessly frustrating to his opposition, voters or the press who try to pin him down, because he plays a very different, non-word-based, show-up-in-person game.
He singlehandedly disabled the need for traditional political advertising this season, because he’s a walking piece of sponsored content, and he doesn’t need to pay a cent. (In fact, he sometimes mentions that the shows should pay HIM.).
And running clips of him using his own words in spots doesn’t have any effect on his supporters. They hate Hillary and resent elites and political correctness. It’s like punching one of those inflatable toys that keep popping back up.
Some of the Republican talking heads felt that Trump did very well with Matt Lauer at the “Commander-in-Chief” event on the Intrepid, because he seemed “relaxed,” and that Clinton, who first faced 15 minutes of pummeling over her e-mails, and then was chided to “be brief” when she got to the vets' questions, seemed “angry.”
It’s the kind of double standard that also allows a 70-year-old man, who cops to being overweight, defend his diet of fast food by saying “at least you know what’s in it” and that he gets his exercise from campaigning. He also said he feels like a better golfer now than he was 30 years ago—and went into some detail about his “putter.”
Which was perfect, because talking about his “stamina” actually all comes down to his putter.
“This is not some reality show,” President Obama said, while stumping this week for Hillary. But no one knows better than Donald Trump how to make it so.