Were it a TV show, Donald Trump’s presidency would be entering its tricky third season just now. Season one saw the gravity-defying rise to power, while season two saw the new President coming to terms with the opportunities and limitations inherent in governing by Twitter.
So how to keep things fresh for the latest series?
The producers have a problem in the face of some dramatically falling ratings among viewers. Traditionally audiences just don’t like it when they get that lingering sense that a ‘show-runner’ is making the whole thing up as they go along, so things need shaken up or even the most loyal viewers will drop away for good.
So, we’ve seen a doubling down on intrigue – a new sense that no character, however major, is really safe. Last season the President teased us with the summary sacking of embattled FBI Director James Comey to great effect. Those scenes of Comey testifying before the Senate were water-cooler moments unseen since the dawn of on-demand drama.
At the same time, we were left wondering whether some key members of the President’s inner circle would survive the scandals blowing in from Russia. Will Donald Jr. survive brushes with Kremlin spies? Will Jared Kushner retain the faith of an impatient father-in-law? Will the First Daughter keep getting bigger and bigger roles? The writers clearly love her character, meaning the smart money is on Ivanka replacing her dad at more meetings with world leaders until the G20 simply stop sending either of them invitations.
Meanwhile, to prove no one’s safe, the latest series has kicked off in sensational style with the abrupt ousting of fan favourite, White House Press Spokesman Sean Spicer. At the same time the President seems to be turning on Attorney General Jeff Sessions – once something of a political mentor to Mr Trump on platforms like immigration, but now deemed “very weak” in recent presidential utterances.
All of this has coincided with the introduction of a brilliant new cast member, Anthony Scaramucci – or ‘The Mooch’ – as he apparently calls himself in the third person while speaking on the record to journalists about his hatred for senior colleagues like White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Who better to run the administration’s communications than a former banker with zero professional communications experience? The way in which he ‘unloads’ his frustrations to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, then contradicts himself on Twitter to the entire nation just five minutes later is genius – not least because we now pretty much know for certain that the President is going to allow him to bump off most of the rest of the cast.
The latest episode broadcast overnight in the US was edge of the seat stuff, with the President facing a narrow defeat in the Senate over a headline policy pledge to ditch Obamacare. Having warmly welcomed his old foe John McCain back for the triumphant vote, the Arizona Senator stunned everyone with a surprise decisive vote against the President’s agenda. Perhaps delicious revenge for first season wrongs?
So what’s next for the Show-Runner in Chief? Can the show keep this level of high octane drama going until 2020 or will Donald Trump manage to jump the shark before then, alienate his core audience, and bring on an early cancellation?
Doubtless he won’t keep us guessing long, so watch this space.
Peter Smyth is Head of Public Affairs at Indigo