Donald Trump Says ‘The Apprentice’ Taught Him Good Ratings Let You Be the ‘Meanest, Most Horrible Human Being’

Journalist Ramin Setoodeh approached Donald Trump about writing a book about “The Apprentice” in March 2021, months after the events of Jan. 6 and after Trump left Washington D.C. as a twice-impeached, defeated former president. The timing was perfect. Trump was only too happy to reminisce about the era, Setoodeh told the New York Times. The former president told Setoodeh that his big takeaway from working in Hollywood was, “It’s all about one thing: ratings. If you have ratings, you can be the meanest, most horrible human being in the world.”

Setoodeh said Trump was excited to collaborate and offered him several hours-long interviews. Trump even said he would promote the book at his political rallies, and told the author, “You’ll sell 10,000 books at one rally. Let’s see how this works out.”

But that all changed after the book’s release. “Apprentice in Wonderland: How Donald Trump and Mark Burnett Took America Through the Looking Glass” dropped June 18 and depicted the former president as “a lonely and sometimes dotty man, longing for the days when he was still accepted by his fellow celebrities, even as he seems to crave political power,” according to the Times.

The author spent four afternoons in person with Trump and also conducted two phone interviews. The last time the pair spoke for the book was in November 2023. Setoodeh said Trump struggled at the time with short-term memory, including not remembering during one of their interviews that Setoodeh had interviewed him before.

A Trump spokesperson lashed out against the author’s characterization and told the Times, “President Trump was aware of who this individual was throughout the interview process, but this ‘writer’ is a nobody and insignificant, so of course he never made an impression.” Setoodeh, he added, is among those who suffer from “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” the term Trump and his supporters often use for those who they argue are too focused on making negative arguments about the Republican candidate.

The author also said Trump remains fixated on his pre-presidency life. “I was really surprised by how much he was still fixated on celebrity culture and how much celebrity still means to him,” Setoodeh explained before adding that Trump bragged about having “secret voters” in Beverly Hills who wouldn’t admit they voted for him.

Trump is still enormously proud of “The Apprentice.” Setoodeh expected one interview to be rescheduled after Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry died that day; instead, Trump merely pushed it back an hour and talked about how much his sister loved the show.

Setoodeh echoed this insight during an appearance on “Inside with Jen Psaki” on Sunday. The book is the culmination of “the most on-the-record access Trump gave any journalist since leaving the White House,” he said, and noted that the most interesting takeaway from their time together may have been, “He still looks at the world through the paradigm of reality TV.”

“He became incredibly famous because of ‘The Apprentice,’ which aired starting in 2004, and he views the presidency and his campaigns for the highest office in the land as extensions of reality TV. And that’s why when he hear him at his rallies and he’s talking about sharks or ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and everyone’s very confused, he’s not interested in governing or policy, he just wants to entertain people,” Setoodeh explained.

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