A still from The Apprentice (Image: NBC)

Donald Trump exits the US presidency with his approval rating at its lowest — a performance similar to that of The Apprentice, the TV program that made him a star and helped him become president.

In fact Trump has never left anything on a high. He’s always managed to mangle and corrupt an idea or gig to the point where it’s a huge relief to see him go — as it will be at 8am Wednesday (US time) when he and Melania are scheduled to fly out of Andrews Air Force Base near Washington for exile in Florida.

A poll from Pew Research at the weekend found Trump leaves office with an approval rating of 29%, the lowest of his presidency by far. The poll indicated Trump had lost favour within his own party, with 60% of Republicans and Republican-leaning people approving of his job performance, down from 77% in August.

The share of Trump’s supporters who described his conduct as poor doubled over the past two months (since the November 3 election), from 10% to 20%.

And that falling approval rating recalls the way his TV career at The Apprentice went — downwards.

Trump was host of the program for its first 14 seasons (both The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice). Nielsen ratings show that in the first year, 2003-04 when the program was a huge hit, it was the seventh most watched program with an average audience each program of 20.7 million, and 28.1 million for the finale.

It was downhill from then. By the final series Trump hosted, in 2007, the average audience was 7.5 million and the finale averaged 10.6 million. Its ranked 75th for the year.

Trump also hosted The Celebrity Apprentice from 2007 to 2015. (His walking away from The Apprentice in 2007 was seen as a typical Trump ploy to get more money from NBC which, of course, caved.) Its audience had a similar fate to that of The Apprentice. It started lower (half the average for the first series of The Apprentice) with a national ranking of 48, an average audience of 11.0 million, and a finale audience of 12.1 million.

Not helping Trump and NBC was the way the media landscape changed during the program’s life. In 2004-05, Netflix was an overnight DVD service, not a streaming service; Facebook was just starting; the iPhone was three years away; Google was seen as a force for good.

By the time of Trump’s final hosting in 2015 (as he prepared to run for president and use the program and NBC for free publicity) it was number 65 for the year nationally with an audience of 7.6 million each program and a finale of 6.1 million. In other words, the audience didn’t really care about the result.

So Trump’s famed TV career ended with him as a loser, but heading elsewhere. His political career has ended similarly, this time heading to exile in Florida and a host of legal actions from private citizens and governments, especially (ironically) New York.

He rejected the city which made him and it has rejected him.

Peter Fray

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