Most reality shows have a money component, either a prize or a job or both. While TV was born with game shows and amateur performers, the modern iteration of reality programming emerged in the midst of cost-cutting campaigns at the major networks. Producers don’t have to pay screenwriters, and the non-professional performers are often paid pittances. The presidential race is, of course, a job audition. And Trump echoes the genre’s harsh bottom-line focus in his calls to have Mexico pay for his proposed border wall, and pledging to tackle federal waste with big spending cuts.
He describes his campaign as self-funding (his company has loaned his campaign money), and voices pride at how little he’s had to spend so far – instead relying on probably more free news-media air time than all the other GOP candidates combined. One estimate puts the value at over $1 billion.
At the same time, the real estate billionaire seeks leverage over rivals by playing up his own wealth (“I have a lot of money”). He touts that he’s avoiding the fund-raising efforts that make other politicians beholden to special interests. And he has belittled traditional politicians by describing how moneyed interests – including himself in the past – use lobbying and campaign donations to buy political favors.
The continued framing of the narrative through money serves as a not-so-subtle reminder of what he regards as his primary qualification: being a successful businessman.