Donald Trump, a man who thinks being captured in battle makes a soldier less of a war hero and believes that spending time at a fancy prep school is akin to serving in the military, wants to help the veterans. Or, more specifically, he wants CNN to help the veterans and then to himself claim credit for it.
The GOP front-runner this week asked CNN president Jeff Zucker to donate all of the network’s profits from next week’s presidential debate to various veterans groups selected by Trump. "The veterans of our country, our finest people, have been treated horribly by our government and its 'all talk and no action' politicians," he wrote in a letter made public on Wednesday. "In fact, some would say they are treated like third class citizens—even worse, in many cases, than illegal immigrants. It is about time that someone comes to their aid. Let's start now!"
To date, Trump’s biggest claims to helping veterans are his donation of $1 million to build a Vietnam veterans memorial in New York in the 1980s and his underwriting of a veterans' parade in the mid-1990s. (More recently, though, he has attempted to improve veterans’ relative standings on his perceived hierarchy of neglect by proposing we treat undocumented immigrants as horribly as possible.)
The letter features Trump’s name in gold at the top and the rest of it is equally Trumpian, with the Donald mentioning reports that CNN is charging as much as 40-times its normal ad rates for the debate and declaring, not totally inaccurately, that his presence in the race is what’s driving ratings expectations. “While I refuse to brag, and as you know very well, this tremendous increase in viewer interest and advertising is due 100% to ‘Donald J. Trump,’” the hyperbole-loving self-hype-man writes.
The letter stopped short of demanding the donations be made, though Trump has previously discussed the idea of forcing networks to donate Trump campaign-fueled profits in pay-to-play terms. "Here's my question: So if I go to CNN and I say, ‘Look, you're going to have a massive audience,’ and if I say to them, ‘I want $10 million for charity, nothing for myself,’ what happens? I'm not showing up, right?” he told Time magazine last month.
Following through on such a threat is almost unimaginable for a presidential candidate, even one like Trump who plays by his own made-for-reality-TV rules. Then again, even floating the idea in the first place would have been unthinkable. That is, until Trump did.