Sunday, April 29, 2018


Whether or not you liked Michelle Wolf's comedy routine at last night's White House Correspondents' Dinner, give her credit for this: The president held one of his Nuremberg rallies last night, but everyone in the media is talking about Wolf's jokes instead. She upstaged Donald Trump! The press found her more fascinating! Since 2015, how many people have been able to say that?

Of course, the attention was mostly negative:
Chatter online among journalists ... after the event was full of criticism for comedian Michelle Wolf, who was the evening's headliner....

As the Washington Post's Paul Farhi wrote, Wolf's remarks "swerved from raunchy to downright nasty."

... Politico said Wolf's performance "was a risque and uneven routine at first met with laughs but often greeted by awkward silence."

... The criticism was joined by some well-known political journalists who sounded off both about Wolf's remarks and the nature of the event more broadly.
On Twitter, Mika Brzezinski and Maggie Haberman chastised Wolf for joking about Sarah Huckabee Sanders's looks -- which, as Wolf pointed out (correctly), she hadn't actually done.

An AP reporter summed up the consensus view of media figures:

But they watched, and they harrumphed. They ignored Trump last night.

And this brings me to 2020. I still think it's quite possible that Donald Trump will survive to the next election, and if he does, I think it's 99% certain that he'll run again. (It's 100% certain that he wants to run again, because he wants to win again, just for the satisfaction of showing us that he can.) In the last election, the Democrats had two candidates who, in the eyes of at least some voters, were rock stars: Hillary Clinton has a passionate following, and Bernie Sanders developed one over the course of the campaign. Yet it was Trump whose speeches were repeatedly carried on cable television unedited. It didn't matter how many delegates Clinton won or how much passion Bernie stirred up -- Trump was the media's main focus.

In 2020, isn't that likely to be true all over again?

Who's going to be regarded as better television than Trump? Who's going to be seen as a better story? Kirsten Gillibrand? Deval Patrick? In 2016 we had the first female nominee and a youth mini-revolution, but nobody in the media cared -- Trump got all the press.

Since Trump descended that escalator in 2015, no one's managed to upstage him -- except a comedian who was as harsh and vulgar as he is.

Clinton aide Philippe Reines told us last month that the Democrats should run someone in 2020 who'll get down and dirty the way Trump does, who'll be as brazen and uncensored. Last night suggests that he has a point -- except that nearly all the coverage of Michelle Wolf is negative.

So you can't seize attention from Trump except by being Trump, but if you are Trump, they'll slam you. You can't win.

I thought Wolf's routine had some weak spots, but was very funny much of the time. It was mean, but I enjoyed the meanness, which was aimed at privileged people who ought to have thick skins. Here's the video -- judge for yourself.

Wolf was especially tough on Trump, but she also said this to the journalists:
You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you use to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn't sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you. He's helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you're profiting off of him....
This was a setup to her final jokes, but she was serious -- and she was making a point Trump himself made late last year:
In an on-the-record interview with the New York Times ... Trump said that the press will “let me win” in 2020 because, he believes, it is completely dependent on him for traffic, circulation, ratings, and so on.

“Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes,” Trump said.

“Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win,” he continued, adding that “eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”
I hope Trump loses in 2020 because the country is well and truly sick of him and everything he represents. But I agree with him and with Wolf: The press won't be sick of him. The press thinks he's more exciting than everyone else in politics. The press will undoubtedly lavish coverage on him and largely ignore his opponent, who will probably be running a serious, thoughtful campaign aimed at emotional adults.

Unless the candidate takes some pointers from Michelle Wolf -- in which case the press will whack the candidate's knuckles.

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