The reality-television show president talked about his ratings at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.
Taking the podium in the Hilton International Ballroom, President Trump began his address with not-so-subtle digs at the ratings of his star-turning show The Apprentice, which is now hosted by another celebrity politician: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“We had tremendous success on The Apprentice,” Trump, wearing his characteristic wide red tie, said to the attendees. “And when I ran for president, I had to leave the show. That’s when I knew for sure I was doing it. And they hired a big, big movie star—Arnold Schwarzenegger to take my place.”
But according to the president, who’s still credited as an executive producer on the TV show, Schwarzenegger is not knocking it out of the park in his new role.
“And we know how that turned out,” Trump continued. “The ratings went right down the tubes. It’s been a total disaster. And [Apprentice creator] Mark [Burnett] will never ever bet against Trump again. And I want to just pray for Arnold if we can for those ratings,” Trump concluded, a Cheshire cat grin spreading across his face.
(Of course, a representative for Schwarzenegger immediately fired back, telling ABC News that “Arnold is praying that President Trump can start improving his own approval ratings, which were the worst in history for an incoming president, by taking his job seriously and working inclusively.”)
Burnett, a devout Christian who cracked jokes at last year’s prayer event, introduced Trump at the breakfast. Burnett also proceeded to talk at the audience about The Apprentice, the show he and Trump once made into a television hit: a “highly successful global television franchise,” he said.
(Trump’s time as host of this highly successful global franchise was also marked by scandal, humiliation, pervasive foul and sexist behavior, and—at its very worst—allegations of sexual assault, as The Daily Beast has previously reported in a month-long investigation.)
Burnett—who recently finished helping Trump plan his inauguration festivities in Washington, D.C.—was, until Trump’s Election Night victory, at least pretending to be a critic of the now president. In October (when it looked like Trump would lose), Burnett declared in a public statement that he was “not now and have never been a supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy.” Also also insisted that “my wife and I reject the hatred, division, and misogyny that has been a very unfortunate part of his campaign.”
And yet, as The Daily Beast reported in early November, Burnett and his office quickly started cracking down on Apprentice staff leaks that hurt Trump in the wake of “Pussygate.” During the presidential transition period, Burnett was seen at Trump Tower in Manhattan. And now, with his role in Trump’s first National Prayer Breakfast, Burnett has cemented his role as one of his reality-TV colleague’s presidential court jesters.
The prayer breakfast has been a yearly staple of every presidency since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. At least in recent iterations of the speech, specifically those given by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama in their respective first terms, the focus is often a kind of generic, sweeping view of personal faith and the resonance of faith in the nation.
For instance, in 2001, Bush said: “Faith remains important to the compassion of our nation. Millions of Americans serve their neighbor because they love their God. Their lives are characterized by kindness and patience and service to others. They do for others what no government really can ever do—no government program can really ever do: They provide love for another human being; they provide hope even when hope comes hard.”
When it was Obama’s turn, he described the nation’s makeup of faiths as being a strength to the fabric of the country: “There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we’re going next—and some subscribe to no faith at all. But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.”
After bashing the star of the Terminator franchise, Trump did in fact move on to some discussion of faith, saying: “All around America, I’ve met amazing people whose words of worship and encouragement have been a constant source of strength. What I hear most often as I travel the country are five words that never ever fail to to touch my heart. That’s ‘I. Am. Praying. For. You.’ Trump said.
He spoke briefly as well about his own personal faith, something that has been a source of consternation on the campaign trail (cough, cough “Two Corinthians.”)
“I was blessed to be raised in a churched home,” Trump said. “My mother and father taught me: To whom much is given, much is expected. I was sworn in on the very Bible from which my mother would teach us as young children. And that faith lives on in my heart every single day.”
Part of his address about freedom of religion in the United States actually got prescriptive in terms of policy. Specifically, Trump asserted that he would “get rid of” the Johnson Amendment, which precludes churches from funding political parties.
“Our republic was formed on the basis that freedom is not a gift from government but that freedom is a gift from God,” Trump said.
“Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and let our representatives of faith speak freely and without fear of retribution. Freedom of religion is a sacred right but it’s also a right under threat all around us and the world is under serious, serious threat in so many different ways.”
As he continued discussing the ways in which he hopes to protect religious liberty in the United States, Trump seemed to confirm that he has been having contentious calls with world leaders, specifically the prime minister of Australia, who he allegedly berated and cut short in their conversation.
“The world is in trouble but we can straighten it out,” Trump said. “That's what I do I fix things. Believe me. When you hear about the tough phone calls I'm having don't worry about it. We have to be tough. We're taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It's not gonna happen anymore.”
But also, never forget, Trump got the best ratings.