Talking Points

Trump's real ideology: fame

Over the weekend, former President Donald Trump endorsed Mehmet Oz — "Dr. Oz" to the many viewers of his longtime syndicated television show — in the Pennsylvania GOP primary for U.S. Senate.

This probably isn't a shock. More surprising? Trump's most-devoted right-wing fans rebelled angrily against his pick.

The problem is Oz hasn't always been a doctrinaire conservative. A series of newspaper columns written under his byline advocated gun control measures; he used to be pro-choice; and his show once sympathetically featured transgender kids. He's flipped on guns and abortion, at least, but all of those old stances are no-gos for the MAGA right.

But Trump has never really been an ideologue. He once touted gun control and pro-choices stances before he realized appealing exclusively to the Rush Limbaugh-Fox News audience was his surest route to power. He's a Republican mostly because it's convenient. From an ideological standpoint, that makes Trump occasionally unreliable for the conservatives who usually cheer him the loudest.

Trump's real ideology — aside from his uncut narcissism — is fame. Everybody knows about the reality show, but his love of television and TV cameras followed him into politics. He was a TV addict during his White House years, spending more time and focus watching cable news than he did on his intelligence briefings. He famously picked cabinet members based on their physical bearing and whether they appeared to be straight out of "central casting."  John Bolton got his job as Trump's national security adviser because the president saw him on Fox News. And TV was the reason he picked Oz to endorse in Pennsylvania.

"I have known Dr. Oz for many years, as have many others, even if only through his very successful television show," Trump said in his endorsement. "He has lived with us through the screen and has always been popular, respected, and smart."

Popular, maybe. Oz hasn't always been respected or considered smart, but it's not clear Trump understands there's a difference. And if you lump all three qualities together —deservedly or not — then being famous on TV understandably becomes a natural foundation for serving in the U.S. Senate.

Trump's fans probably shouldn't worry about Oz, however. He has likely learned the same lesson Trump did: You don't need to be a lifelong conservative so long as you fight relentlessly for guns and against abortion and immigration once you enter the political arena. Fame is the foundation of Trump's power, and it probably will end up the same for Oz. Ideas can always come later.