President Donald Trump told Fox News in June that it’s “tough” to follow his instincts and withdraw all troops from Afghanistan when a “great-looking, central casting” military general urges him not to.
When Trump visited replacement border fencing in California in April, he waved local sheriffs up to the assembled cameras.
“That’s central casting,” he told reporters. “You can’t cast – you don’t have anybody in Hollywood that looks like these guys.”
Last week, Trump told Army Pfc. Glendon Oakley, who carried children away from danger during the mass shooting in El Paso, that he was a “hero.” Then the commander in chief added something else.
“So you’ll be a movie star, the way you look,” Trump said.
Oakley, who has sought to deflect attention away from himself and toward the massacre victims, nodded without smiling.
Trump, a former beauty pageant owner, reality television star and product pitchman, has always been concerned with appearances. But it’s not your imagination: his public musings about how people look have become much more frequent since the first year of his presidency.
Trump referred to people as “good-looking” or “great-looking” four times in his first year, according to data from Bill Frischling of Factba.se, a website that comprehensively tracks the President’s public words. In the year-and-a-half since then, he has done it 31 times.
Trump, who infamously rated women’s looks on Howard Stern’s radio show prior to his campaign, has occasionally discussed women’s appearances while in office – sometimes to call them beautiful, sometimes to call them ugly. But the vast majority of his public words about looks as President have been admiring remarks about men, most often men in uniform.
Looking the part
Whether it’s generals or first responders, Trump likes people he believes look the part and dismisses people he believes do not.
According to “Fear,” Bob Woodward’s book on the Trump White House, Trump complained that his first national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, dressed “like a beer salesman.” (McMaster lasted just over a year in the job.) Trump long hesitated on giving an appointment to McMaster’s replacement, John Bolton, because of Bolton’s prominent mustache, The New York Times has reported.
Trump referred to people as “central casting” five times in his first year in office, Factba.se’s numbers show. From late February 2018 to today, he has used “central casting” 23 times.
There has been a clear spike over the last four months in particular. Since April, Trump has described people as “central casting” 10 times, “good-looking” or “great-looking” 11 times – including one tweet in which he called himself “so great looking and smart.”
Some of Trump’s comments have been lighthearted passing compliments to people in a room with him, many of whom have responded appreciatively. In other cases, they have sounded more like a casting director’s clinical assessments.
“These guys are central casting – like from a movie, except better,” he said at a rally in July about military officers he said he spoke to about how to defeat ISIS. “They’re stronger, bigger, tougher, meaner, and actually better-looking in a certain way.”
“Look at them. Central casting,” he said while eyeing members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s delegation during a bilateral meeting in June. “There’s no Hollywood set where you could produce people that look like them.”
Trump described both of his Supreme Court nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, as “central casting” – and suggested that this was one of the reasons senators should have supported them. In February, recounting a conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump raised eyebrows with a digression on the appearance of the Chinese president’s aides.
“He’s got 10 people standing behind him. Every one is central casting. Central casting. Glasses, pad,” Trump said, raising his hands to his eyes to mime eyeglasses.
The increase in Trump’s mentions about looks between his first year and second year came as he spoke more, made more false claims, and ad-libbed more. As he has grown more comfortable in office, he has been more willing to reveal his unvarnished thoughts.
Trump’s supporters see an accessible leader who puts others at ease, a man admirably willing to say the obvious things other politicians would censor. His critics see a narcissist dangerously fixated on the superficial at the expense of the substantive, a man unwilling to discard antiquated stereotypes tinged with assumptions about masculinity and race.
Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant who is sharply critical of Trump, said the President’s compliments of men in uniform are a reflection of both his reality TV past and “his own personal sense of weakness.”
“They’re lean, they’re tough and they’re strong, and it’s all the polar opposite of a man who thinks that exercise is walking from the golf cart to the green,” Wilson said.
Michael D’Antonio, author of a 2015 biography of Trump and a CNN commentator, said Trump has always prioritized appearances in his hires, filling Trump Organization offices “with people he deemed good-looking.”
“This may be what gets him in trouble with these picks – emphasizing looks instead of record,” D’Antonio said. “But he never abandons a method that he has practiced with success in the past.”