Donald Trump officially launched his presidential bid in 2016, but according to an NBC producer Trump campaigned years beforehand on the network.
For years, Trump campaigned on NBC and CBS late night shows reiterating talking points similar to ones he’s used in his presidential campaign, according to former Tonight Show producer Dave Berg’s July 11, USA Today op-ed.
Berg said Trump had been “making a campaign dry run under the guise of being a celebrity.” He recalled that after Trump formed an exploratory committee for president in 1999, he pitched his candidacy on the Tonight Show. During that appearance, host Jay Leno jokingly introduced Trump as “the next president of the United States.”
According to Berg, Leno meant it as a joke but Trump, who was “flashing victory signs,” took it seriously. That was all part of a campaign, Berg says began in 1980. He cited a 1980 interview between gossip columnist Rona Barrett and Trump. She asked if he would run for president.
“Why would a gossip columnist pose such a question? Maybe Trump planted the idea?” Berg wondered.
In somewhat of an eerie coincidence, NBC host Billy Bush also referred to Trump as “the next president of the United States” during an episode of Access Hollywood in 2004. During that election-day episode, Bush told a man to write Trump in on his ballot and asked a poll worker how many people were “voting for Donald Trump.”
MRC Business researched NBC’s coverage of Trump’s extensive and long-standing relationship with NBC during the decade before his run for president, and found that the network laid groundwork for his presidential run.
From 2004-2011, NBC created a larger-than-life persona for The Donald, furthered his political presence and portrayed him as a “power broker” in the 2012 presidential election.
Berg also said Trump routinely made political points during late night TV appearances that echo more recent remarks. For example, Trump regularly complained about trade with China and discussed bringing jobs back to America.
“I realize I had it backward: Trump wasn't posing as a presidential candidate to boost his Nielsen ratings. He was actually making a campaign dry run under the guise of being a celebrity,” Berg wrote.
Berg argued that Trump used the Tonight Show to position himself for a presidential run in 1999.
MRC Business found Trump also benefitted from NBC’s Today.
When the mogul hinted at presidential ambitions before the 2012 election, host Matt Lauer interviewed him about his book, Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again. During that interview, Trump told Lauer, “You happen to like me because I have a very successful show on your network.”
At one point before the 2012 presidential election, Lauer asked contestants from Celebrity Apprentice whether they would give Trump their vote for president. Every contestant raised their hands in affirmation.