On his own, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews has been known to offer up some attention-grabbing reactions to major political moments. On Tuesday night, he had some help.
Following President Donald Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress, Matthews hosted a special late-night edition of Hardball. His panel included a murderer’s row of outspoken celeb voices from the left, from Bill Maher and Michael Moore to Kathy Griffin and Rob Reiner. As expected, emotions were running high.
Moments after the speech ended, Matthews was calling Trump’s economic message a “winner” on MSNBC, but a couple of hours later, the mood had started to change a bit.
After joking that he “loved” the speech, Maher told Matthews by phone, “Every president, to a degree, talks out of two sides of their mouths but this guy is on a level beyond what anybody has seen.” When Matthews noted the Trump White House’s tease about a more humane immigration policy didn’t exactly materialize in the speech, Maher replied, “Well, he probably didn’t want to lose his base.”
Maher admitted that “this time he actually looked like a president” because he had been practicing the speech, as cameras caught him doing in his limousine on the way to the chamber. “I think the bad thing is it will fool a lot of people,” he said. For those who “knew nothing about Donald Trump” before this speech, he might look “like a fairly reasonable guy, too right-wing for me, but a normal person.”
“The problem isn’t the policy,” he continued, though he’s not happy with that either. “It’s the personality. This is what worries me and most Americans: You can’t have something who is diagnosable like this with the narcissism and all the rest of it and think that it is going to come out well for us. Somebody who sees things that aren’t there.”
While Matthews was “taken” with the moment in which Trump paused for a standing ovation to honor Carryn Owens, wife of the Navy SEAL killed in the Yemen raid last month, he did not appreciate the president seeming to brag about how long the applause went on for. “Wasn’t that a bit grotesque?” he asked.
“I wasn’t crazy about the response to that,” he said, adding, “I wish she hadn’t allowed herself to be used as his prop like that. And I don’t see any great courage here. Where is the courage? Who wouldn’t stand and applaud for a war widow?”
“People are actually being hurt,” Maher added. “They are being detained at the borders, families are being separated, rivers are being polluted. The bad stuff is really going on.” When Trump says, “Education is the civil rights issue of our time” and then puts someone like Betsy DeVos in charge, he said there’s a “disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality.”
Picking up where Maher left off, Michael Moore described Trump’s speech as a “new chapter” of George Orwell’s 1984. Earlier in the day, the president seemed to be implying the recent bomb threats on Jewish community centers were “false flag” operations. Then, at the top of his speech, he condemned them as unacceptable acts of hate.
“To a malignant narcissist, you are not thinking about insulting anybody, because it’s about you,” Moore said. “That would require empathy.”
Shifting to Ryan Owens, the fallen Navy SEAL, Moore said, “his death came as a result of a dinner Trump had with his son-in-law and a political hack,” Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon. “Whether it was a valuable mission or not,” Moore said Trump was clearly “using” Owens’ widow.
“That’s why she’s there, as sort of an ‘f-you’ to the people who are criticizing him for this,” Moore continued. “And this poor woman, this widow who has lost her husband, she is in desperate grief right now. And to use that to put another notch on his belt—and what is he thinking about? ‘My ratings. Record Applause. I’m going to get an Emmy for this, most applause for a dead soldier on my watch!’”
“This is the sickness of this man,” Moore concluded.