Photo illustration Greg Ruben / Axios
President Trump doesn't view life through the lens that most people do. In ways small and sweeping, he sees himself as The Producer, conducting The Trump show, on and off stage.
This is the man who noted the movie-like awesomeness of Marine One taking off on Inauguration Day, moved a lamp that might mess up photos of himself with British Prime Minister Theresa May, and scolded his press secretary for not wearing a stark suit that pops on TV.
This is the man who was captivated by watching coverage of himself while flying between campaign stops. Aides quit trying to show him tapes of previous debates while getting ready for the next one, because he would only focus on himself — and always applauded what he saw. Chuck Todd, moderator of "Meet The Press," noted that Trump used to replay his appearances on the Sunday shows — without sound — like a quarterback reviewing game film. "He's a very visual guy," Todd said on a Politico podcast. "He thinks this way. And look, it's an important insight in just understanding him."
This is also the man who, when picking his Cabinet, was obsessed with whether a candidate "looked the part." Mitt Romney looked like a secretary of State, so his stock rose. He went with the more commanding Rex Tillerson. Gary Cohn, Trump's swaggering economic adviser, was an instant hit because he carried himself like someone to reckon with, aides told us.
Trump remarked to aides how short retired Gen. David Petraeus was, but was smitten with the John Wayne strut of "The Generals" he wound up picking — especially retired Gen.James Mattis (stage name: "Mad Dog"). A witness recalled Trump being introduced at a campaign to a veteran of the International Space Station, who resembled a young John Glenn. Trump exclaimed: "You LOOK like an astronaut!"
Let's be honest: Trump's gut on what sells on stage often works. He knew instinctively how to to appeal to the celebrity- tabloids in the '80s, sell America on "The Apprentice," starring him, beginning in 2004, and own the national and world stage for most of 2015, all of 2016, and at least the next four years.
His obsession with optics, style and TV glam are central to his being. Here are some gems we picked up reporting this:
- Trump judges men's appearances as much as women's. A source who's worked with Trump explains: "If you're going to be a public person for him, whether it's a lawyer or representing him in meetings, then you need to have a certain look. That look —at least for any male — you have to be sharply dressed. Preferably, I would say, solid colors. … You should have a good physical demeanor, good stature, hair well groomed."
- Trump pays close attention to ties. Says a source who has worked with Trump: "You're always supposed to wear a tie. If it's not a Trump tie, you can get away with Brooks Brothers. But I'd suggest Armani." Trump prefers wider, traditional ties, this source says. Regarding Trump's rakish policy adviser Stephen Miller, the source adds: "I've always been surprised about how Stephen Miller survives with those thin ties."
- Trump likes the women who work for him "to dress like women," says a source who worked on Trump's campaign. "Even if you're in jeans, you need to look neat and orderly." We hear that women who worked in Trump's campaign field offices — folks who spend more time knocking on doors than attending glitzy events — felt pressure to wear dresses to impress Trump.
- Staff knew Trump would be hacked off at press secretary Sean Spicer for not dressing fancy enough for his first briefing-room appearance. "It'd be one thing to wear a pinstripe that fit him perfectly," said one person who has spent a lot of time with Trump. "But, it was like, he had a gap in his collar. I was like, 'Oh God, he's going to get reamed.'""I was getting text messages: Can you believe what he's wearing?" the person continued. "Four people texted me, because we know the boss. … Trump is very much about: Present yourself in the best light. If you're going to represent him, even more so." Spicer seems to have learnt his lesson. Since then, he's only appeared in well-tailored dark suits, coupled with perfectly knotted ties.
- One exception: Steve Bannon, who wouldn't be caught dead in Armani and has been photographed in the Oval Office without a tie, gets a pass. A source explains: "Steve is Steve ... He's cavalier almost about what he wears."
Why this matters: Over many years at "The Apprentice," Trump perfected the image of a decisive boss — a successful, brutal, but sometimes charming, authoritarian. Trump's mastery of imagery — particularly through television — is perhaps, more than any other factor, the reason he's the current occupant of the Oval Office.
It's also why he was so effective connecting with his audience and winning free media coverage. Whatever ideas his aides may have up their sleeves, Trump is always going to want to be The Producer and the popular leading man of the Trump Show.
It's not the polls. It's the ratings. — President Donald J. Trump