While bathing in the media limelight, real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump is still playing coy over whether he fully intends to run for president. Any announcement will necessarily come after the completion of his show “The Celebrity Apprentice” because, as he’s said, “I can’t announce during the show.” The FEC’s equal-time rule requires radio and TV stations to provide commensurate time to opposing candidates if they give free airtime to one announced candidate.
Trump has said he will address his candidacy during the show’s finale on May 22 — a move many attribute to flagging ratings rather than political ambition. But last night, Trump may have pre-empted himself — and slid around FEC rules — by polling his once-famous contestants on whether he should run for president. After securing singer Meatloaf’s and TV personality Star Jones’s endorsement, Trump issued a ruling that anybody who would not vote for him “would immediately be fired because they’re stupid”:
TRUMP: Good morning. Everybody is saying I should run for president. Let me ask you a question. Meatloaf, should I run for president?
TRUMP: Now you would definitely vote for me.
MEATLOAF: I would vote for you, I would help you with your campaign.
TRUMP: Ok, I thought so. What do you think Star? You’re a political analyst.
JONES: Of course, I’m right here now, ready to roll.
TRUMP: Who would not vote for me?…I would say anybody that raised their hand would immediately be fired because they’re stupid.
NBC is certainly aware of its the equal time restrictions and is claiming that Trump’s finale stunt will only announce a “time and place of a press conference” at a later date at which time he can officially announce his run. Until Trump formally declares, NBC is not obligated to offer equal time to another candidate.
However, NBC’s special treatment of Trump did not extend to former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) in 2007 who departed his Law & Order gig “after he indicated that he would seek the Republican nomination in 2008.” He had yet to form an exploratory committee. Fox News is now operating under the same principle, ending its contracts with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — before either offered a formal declaration.
In using his reality show as a venue to promote and poll for his candidacy, Trump is quickly trampling any legal line NBC is trying to toe. After all, he told CBS that he views leading the country as more “important” than his show and said “there’s no doubt in my mind I want to run as a Republican.” So perhaps, as Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) suggests, while “there is no law against stupid,” NBC should tell Trump “You’re Fired.”