A new nightly Facebook Live TV show from the headquarters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump may not win him votes. But veteran political analysts say that his newest tactic could help ensure that his loyal supporters show up at the polls. And it might lay the groundwork for a future "Trump TV" cable channel devoted to Trump's variety of nationalist politics.
The program made its debut at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time Monday night and will continue in that time slot until Election Day, Nov. 8. The first show featured his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, and other Trump advisers but not Trump himself. Trump communications advisor Cliff Sims said that future shows will feature live video from Trump's evening campaign rallies and interviews with members of the Trump family. Tuesday's show went directly to a Trump rally in Tallahassee, where the candidate vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the signature domestic accomplishment of President Obama's presidency.
The Trump campaign did not reply to multiple requests for additional information about the show. But in a Tuesday morning interview on a Cincinnati radio station, Trump said "I have no interest in Trump TV ... we have the most incredible people, but I just don't have any interest in that. I have one interest, that's on November 8."
Still, Tobe Berkovitz, an assistant professor at Boston University's College of Communications, said a Trump-centric cable channel "could be a successful niche" if Trump could raise the necessary funds to get it started. "You think Trump's going to pour a few hundred million of his own money into that?" Berkovitz said. "Hell, he didn't do that for his own campaign."
Since the daily video stream will only be available on Trump's Facebook page, it will probably be viewed mostly by his most dedicated supporters. But Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, thinks that preaching to the converted makes sense in the late stages of a campaign.
"Arguably Facebook Live is the best way to reach his committed followers and get them fired up," said Mele, who helped run the Internet campaign for former Vermont governor Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid.
Since it became widely available to Facebook users in January, Facebook Live has become a popular political tool for candidates of both parties. Julie McClain, a spokeswoman for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, said her candidate has generated 53 Facebook Live shows that have attracted nearly 40 million views, including a dozen that were streamed to over 1 million viewers. "Our strategy has been to meet voters where they are," said McClain. "And very often, that is online."
Trump, too, has routinely shown campaign events on Facebook Live. But the new show, scheduled for the same time as the daily national news broadcasts of CBS, NBC, and ABC, appears to be explicitly aimed at competing with the mainstream media that Trump openly disdains. Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn told the Christian Science Monitor that "bypassing the left-wing media" is the program's goal.
Mele said that the show may attract its share of curiosity-seekers as well as hardcore Trump supporters. But he predicted that interest in a daily live show will fade. "Sustained attention? Boy, that's a pretty hard thing to get," said Mele.
And even if uncommitted voters tune in, John Wihbey, an assistant professor at Northeastern University's School of Journalism, said the show comes far too late to boost Trump's base of support. "A couple of great shows, if they pull it off, isn't going to make much difference," said Wihbey. "Strategically, they should have done it six months ago. It would have been smarter."