Playing the Trump Card: Donald Trump and the Movie Theater Industry

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This article originally appeared in Boxoffice magazine. 

The nomination of Donald J. Trump as the 2016 Republican presidential candidate was one of the most surprising primary outcomes in modern political history.  His unexpected surge to the top of the Republican ticket stunned many seasoned political observers, forcing them to come to terms with changing tides in the Republican party and the down-ticket effect of a relative outsider.

To the entertainment industry, however, Donald Trump is certainly no stranger.  A member of the Screen Actors Guild, he has spent several decades in showbiz—cameo appearances on TV shows, host of NBC’s The Apprentice, beauty pageant ownership, involvement in World Wrestling Entertainment, and model management.  Trump’s reach extends to the video game universe as well.  “Donald Trump’s Real Estate Tycoon,” released in 2002, is a business simulation game pitting players against Trump.  A video game version of Trump’s show “The Apprentice” was released in 2006.  Trump’s name recognition as an entertainment personality was undoubtedly a key asset as he campaigned his way through the United States and assumed the mantle of the Republican party.

And even though many of the party establishment regard him as a political interloper, this election is not Trump’s first involvement in politics.  Trump has been active as a campaign contributor for many years, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic and Republican political campaigns and organizations.  Trump has also used his social media accounts as a platform for political expression.  In 2012, he was a vocal proponent of Mitt Romney, tweeting frequently in support of Romney’s candidacy.  Many of his statements were critiques of President Barack Obama’s handling of the national debt, Obamacare, and jobs.

Now that he represents a major political party, Trump has had to articulate positions on many diverse issues.  Unpredictable and untested, Trump’s candidacy has left pundits and analysts scrambling to understand his policy orientation.  While he does maintain consistent attitudes toward some issues, Trump’s frequent backtracking makes pinning down the presidential nominee’s opinions a challenging exercise.  This article will explore Trump’s positions on several issues pertinent to the movie theater industry.  (Previous coverage of candidates in this magazine included articles on Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz in the June 2015 and January 2016 issues of boxoffice, respectively.  See Baruh, Esther, “Rated ‘A’ For Aggressive: Hillary Clinton, the Entertainment Industry, and First Amendment Rights,” BoxOffice Pro, June 2015 and Baruh, Esther, “Ted Talk:  Movie Theaters and Ted Cruz,” Boxoffice, January 2016.)

Violence in the Media and Ratings Systems

The few comments on media violence that Trump has offered may shed light on his attitudes toward depictions of violence in video games and movies.  Trump is endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and he criticized gun control laws as ineffective following shooting incidents in the U.S. and abroad.  He has also decried the concept of gun-free zones.  However, some of his comments on violence in entertainment would suggest that he does regard depictions of violence in video games and movies to be troubling.  After the mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, Trump tweeted that “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it is creating monsters!”  (The video games associated with Trump are both are rated “E” for everyone by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.)  Trump has also suggested that Hollywood personalities who support gun control but make movies with violent scenes are acting hypocritically.  “Movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who lost his company to Colony Capital, is against guns but makes movies w/ [sic] major gun violence–really!” Trump tweeted in 2014.

Other than these comments on violence in entertainment, Trump has remained largely silent on the ratings systems governing movies and video games.  In March of this year, Trump wrote the following in response to questions on the entertainment industry posed by the Washington Post:   “Parents should make the determination about what their children should watch or not watch.  If they do not have enough information upon which to base those decisions, they should insist that their elected representatives act on those needs.”  Trump’s answer would seem to indicate that he favors a form of government regulation of movie and video game ratings, if the ratings systems fail to advise parents adequately about the content of their products.

Soda Tax

Trump has not articulated a position specifically against soda taxes, although he has generally pledged to eliminate some taxes and reduce income tax rates.  After the Philadelphia city council passed legislation mandating a tax on sweetened beverages in June, the RNC published a blog post decrying the tax as regressive and highlighting Hillary Clinton’s support for the tax.  Trump shared the RNC’s blog post on Facebook, but did not state his own opposition to the tax; instead, he echoed the RNC’s points and focused on Clinton’s support for the tax.  “Crooked Hillary Clinton has endorsed Philly’s soda tax, which violates her pledge to not support taxes on the poor and middle class,” he wrote on Facebook.

Minimum Wage

Trump’s position on minimum wage increases has shifted over the course of the election cycle.  Initially, Trump seemed to be against any minimum wage increases.  During a GOP debate in November 2015, Trump stated that he “would not” raise minimum wage.  “We have to leave it the way it is,” Trump said of minimum wage.  “People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum.”

In May 2016, however, in an appearance on CNN, Trump seemed to indicate that he supported an increased minimum wage, with the caveat that the federal government should not be the entity raising the wage floor.  “I think people have to get more,” he told host George Stephanopoulos.  That same day, Trump clarified his position further on a “Meet the Press” appearance, saying that wage increases should occur but should be dictated by state governments.  “I don’t know how people make it on $7.25 an hour. Now, with that being said, I would like to see an increase of some magnitude.  But I’d rather leave it to the states.  Let the states decide,” he said.  When host Chuck Todd asked if the federal government should set a base wage and then have states make further increases, Trump said he would “rather have the states go out and do what they have to do,” implying that he did not support a federal wage increase, but does support individual state action.

Trump further expanded his views on minimum wage in July during a press interview and follow-up questions.  When asked by Bill O’Reilly if he supported a wage increase, Trump said “the minimum wage has to go up,” citing $10 as an appropriate wage floor.  “I think that states should really call the shot,” he added, reiterating his previously stated position that states should determine minimum wages.  But in follow-up questions, a reporter asked Trump if his comment about a $10 wage floor was referring to federal minimum wage.  “Federal,” Trump confirmed.

Whatever the outcome of this election cycle, the individual elected to the White House in November is sure to set a legislative and regulatory agenda that impacts the many matters affecting exhibition.  From the issues explored in this article, to accessibility regulation, to changes in the labor landscape, theater owners can anticipate new challenges ahead.