Why does Donald Trump get so much kid glove treatment? Why handle with care someone who handles with care no one beyond a few Darth Vaders he thinks can do him some good?
I’m talking to you, George Stephanopoulos.
Yeah, yeah, you and your ABC News crew spent all that time with Trump taping a “special” that chewed up an hour Sunday night. But it was a tossup who was more annoying, Trump, in his familiar role as a fabricating provocateur, or you, the smiley face who, with few exceptions, let him get away with it.
This was a perfect TV symbiosis: ABC getting to puff its chest and tout the glory of its morning anchor earning extended face time with the president. And Trump happily pocketing ABC’s gift: an hour of free PR to help kick off his official re-election bid.
It was largely theater, choreographed and staged, with everyone hitting his mark. Ivanka just happened to be in the Oval Office chatting with her father about education? “Great job,” he told her. “You really doing a great job.” Oh, and did he mention she was doing a great job?
It was absurd to expect the Trumpians to sail through this gig and be oblivious to the lights, cameras and other razzmatazz that comes with a big TV shoot. Cinema verité is a huge challenge under any conditions and even when the subjects are less seasoned actors than this crowd. My favorite “candid”—how many takes?—captured Trump and Melania ascending the tall White House staircase dramatically, robotically, and most importantly, hand in hand. Oh, those two kids, so in love. Cut, print.
Stephanopoulos did show some devil’s advocacy on occasion, and there was, of course, his much-reported give-and-take with Trump about whether the President should let someone know if he’s contacted by a serial killer or terrorist or anyone else the FBI might want to know about. But that highlight was eclipsed by the timidity of George in the face of Trump’s intense bloviation.
George likely feared pushing back too hard might cost him accessibility, that Trump might abort in anger at any time, stop the limo and kick him and the camera out. Not likely, though, with so much at stake for the President.
Could we realistically expect GS to be informed and agile enough to swiftly process Trump’s monologues and rebut his lies and erroneous claims? Easy for me; I’ve had days to think it through.
George had weeks to prepare, and if he wasn’t ready for every scenario, every bizarre and outrageous thing Trump threw at him, he’s in the wrong business.
Let’s start with something minor.
When Trump called George “a little wise guy” to his face, he shoulda cut him off. Shoulda asked why he calls people names. Shoulda asked how he’d respond if someone called him Dopey Donnie or Tubby Donnie. Or any of the other applicable “D” words, notably Dishonest, Dufus, Diseased. Or just plain Fatso or Dummy; both work, crudity for a crude man.
I say drive a stake right through his fragility, his insecurity.
Too banal? Wouldn’t respect The Office? As if he hasn’t already left his shitprints all over the place.
The hour was freckled with weightier shouldas. Here are just a few:
–Trump insisted repeatedly that the Mueller Report found “no collusion” between Russia and him or his campaign. George rebutted that, but ineffectively. George shoulda said: If you or your staff can find where it says that in the Mueller Report, we will let you read that passage to the camera right here.
–George asked if a President can obstruct justice? After hesitating, Trump replied: “A President can run the country, and that’s what happened, George. I run the country, and I run it well.” George shoulda said: That didn’t answer the question. Can a President obstruct justice?
–George asked why Trump refused to be interviewed under oath by Robert Mueller’s team. Trump replied: “Because…they were looking to get us for lies…or slight misstatements.” George shoulda said: If you weren’t going to lie or make misstatements, what was there to fear?
–George asked Trump to explain his resistance to outing his tax returns and other financial records. Trump replied: “It’s not up to me, it’s up to the lawyers, it’s up to everyone else.” George shoulda said: Quote the statute that forbids you, the President, from releasing your own financial data?
–George asked about nuclear disarmament talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump said: “He promised he wouldn’t be testing.” George shoulda said: Isn’t it naïve of you to expect him to admit it?
On and on it went, with Trump, of course recycling his stock anti-media rants, this time, by George, courtesy of ABC News.