Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

Why Trump is so preoccupied with ‘central casting’

Donald Trump spoke to members of the National Governors Association yesterday at the White House, and the president took a moment to thank his vice president, Mike Pence. Trump told his audience:
“[Pence] has been so wonderful to work with. He’s a real talent, a real guy. And he is central casting, do we agree?  Central casting.”
The phrasing stood out in part because of the frequency with which we’ve heard that language from Trump. It was on Inauguration Day, for example, that the new president turned to James Mattis, “This is central casting. If I was doing a movie, I pick you, general.”

A month earlier, when Trump considered Mitt Romney to lead the State Department, Trump’s transition officials said the president believed Romney “looks the part of a top diplomat right out of ‘central casting.’” A Washington Post reporter told MSNBC in December that “central casting” is “actually a phrase he uses quite a bit behind the scenes.”

Trump doesn’t always use the phrase as a compliment. As a presidential candidate, for example, the Republican did a Fox News interview in which he made the case for racial profiling. Referring to airport security, Trump said, “They want you to look at a woman who’s in a wheelchair that’s 88 years old and barely making it and, let’s say, comes out of Sweden, she’s supposed to be treated the same way as a guy that looks just like the guy that just got captured, who’s central casting for profiling. Everybody’s supposed to be treated equally. Well, it doesn’t work that way.”

I’ve heard other politicians and other presidents use the phrase, but not quite to this extent. Trump almost seems preoccupied with “central casting,” as if he were the executive producer of an elaborate show.

Because in the president’s mind, he is.

A month ago, for example, when introducing Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee, Trump kept the conservative judge hidden behind a door for quite a while. When the president finally made the announcement and Gorsuch entered the room, Trump briefly strayed from his trusted teleprompter and asked the big question on his mind: “So was that a surprise? Was it?”

The theatricality was clearly important to the president. A New York Times report noted the next day that the announcement “had some of the unreal aspects of reality TV.”

But with Trump, everything does. When he signs assorted executive orders, some of which do very little, the president likes to put on a little show, complete with leather-bound documents he eagerly shows off for the cameras. The president is so interested in appearance that he likes to watch interviews he’s done on mute – because what Trump’s said is less important to him than how he looked while saying it.

Even clothing seems to matter. The Washington Post recently reported, “The new president believes that a single photograph, re-tweeted ad nauseam, can form the basis of a narrative. He believes the actors in his White House drama should look the part, whether patriotic or powerful. Fashion is costuming.”

This came on the heels of a separate Post piece about Trump meeting with prospective members of his cabinet and White House team, which noted that the president’s principal focus is on how they look, not their qualifications. Chris Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a longtime friend of Trump, told the Post the president is “a showbiz guy,” who cares about “the look and the demeanor and the swagger.”

As regular readers know, every modern White House has taken an interest in media and public perceptions, but for Trump, “the look” appears to be at the top of his list of priorities – with everything else, including substantive policy, a distant second.

In September, Trump sparked a brief controversy when he said Hillary Clinton didn’t have a “presidential look.” It was brazenly sexist, of course, but it was also a reminder that in this giant media production, Trump has an image in his mind of how every part should be filled.

If you’re not out of “central casting,” evidently the president has little use for you.

Donald Trump

Why Trump is so preoccupied with 'central casting'