For the past month and change, there’s been a void in the political commentary arena—and political incorrectness, in general. Yes, Bill Maher was on vacation. But the acerbic satirist seems recharged and ready to dive headfirst into election season—which he’ll do by kicking off the return of his late-night series Real Time with Bill Maher with a big campaign of his own.
You’ll have to tune in to HBO Friday night to see exactly what it is.All teasing aside, Maher’s built up a considerable amount of cynicism during his TV absence as he’s observed the mindboggling rise of Donald Trump to leading GOP candidate for president—this, despite a troubling history of “sexist” and “xenophobic” behavior—as well as that of Tea Partier Ted Cruz (R-TX).
The day after President Obama’s State of the Union address—and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s Trump-bashing response—and hours before The New York Times broke the news that Cruz had failed to disclose as much $1 million in loans from Goldman Sachs that he used to finance his Senate run, The Daily Beast spoke to Maher about the 2016 election, including why Cruz scares him even more than Trump and the big scandal that may dash Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes.
It’s good timing for our chat, the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address. What did you think of Obama’s speech?
I thought it was his best one yet, although he certainly did break his promise about it being short! I was like, “Oh, great, I’ll be out of here in a half-hour…” But I thought it was great that for once the State of the Union wasn’t a laundry list. He mentioned everything up front and then it was much more thematic; a guy looking back with perspective and breadth. A lot of what he said needed to be said. It’s probably stuff that made the Republicans mad, like “that was the lesson of Vietnam, that was the lesson of Iraq.” Well, yeah, that was the lesson of Iraq, but that’s what [the Republicans] fuckin’ hated, because they hate to learn lessons.
What about Nikki Haley’s State of the Union response? It seemed to signal a widening gap in the Republican Party, going after Donald Trump.
Well, compared to Rubio and Jindal she looked like the Lincoln-Douglas debates. By Republican standards, I think she did OK. And as far as her taking a sideswipe at Trump, I thought that was interesting because clearly there is a civil war brewing in this party and it’s going to have to come to a head. She’s going to have to take on not just Donald Trump, but the 65 percent of Republicans who agree with him on banning Muslims. If that’s what she was complaining about then she’s got a bigger fight on her hands—as do all the Republican establishment—than just Donald Trump. That’s their problem: They created this monster in the party and now it’s taking over. They did the same thing with the Christian Coalition almost 30 years ago, and now they’ve redone it with the Tea Party. What they should’ve done when the Tea Party first emerged was to say, “You’re your own party; you’re not the Republican Party. The Republican Party is Bob Dole, George Bush I. Not these cranks.” But of course, they can never resist people who vote for them.
And the Tea Party seemed to be at least partially born of racism against Obama.
More like totally. Born, bred, and raised from racism. Of course. There’s a number of things that prove it, but Obama has mostly completed their agenda. He cut taxes on 98 percent of Americans. He cut the deficit by two-thirds. He reduced the size of government, which is something that Bush and Reagan never did. And yet they still hate him. What could it be? I am always racking my brain! Is it because he’s skinny? What could it be! That’s of course what it is. There was no Tea Party during Bush despite the financial collapse, the bailout of the banks, the bailout of the automobile industry—all of this “socialist money” out the window, the thing that they supposedly hate, and yet no movement of concerned white taxpayers sprouting up. But suddenly, a month after Count Chocula takes office, they break out the three-cornered hat!
When you talk about the Tea Party and the brewing civil war within the Republican Party, it’s a Tea Partier—Ted Cruz—who’s the one nipping at Donald Trump’s heels.
Ted Cruz is scarier than Donald Trump. Because I think Donald Trump, despite some of the crazy things he says and some of the disgusting things he says, he also says some things that a liberal can love. His stance on getting out of the Middle East and being against the Iraq War is stuff that was pretty consistent with what Obama was saying last night. And also, taking on hedge-fund managers. It just shows that people in this country are so out of it politically that ideology doesn’t really matter anymore. When Putin was praising Trump and Joe Scarborough said to him, “You know, Putin murders journalists,” Trump’s response was, “Yeah, we kill people, too.” That’s the kind of thing Noam Chomsky says, you know? So look, Trump would be a disaster as president, don’t get me wrong, but I think he could actually be turned around on some issues.Because he’s already been turned around.
Right. Before he was a liberal, practically. The big one for me that is troubling is seeing him throw in with the Republican rank and file on global warming being a hoax, but he’s very easily swayed by celebrity. I think if we sent Leonardo DiCaprio over to Trump Tower on a secret mission, we could get him to believe global warming is real.
Back to Ted Cruz. Why do you find him scarier than Trump? He is certainly more cunning than him and a far more educated guy with Princeton, Harvard Law, and his constitutional law background.
It’s high intelligence in the service of evil. It’s one thing to have evil people who aren’t that bright! There’s a reason why everyone hates Ted Cruz. There’s a reason why the big question about Ted Cruz is always, “When he shaves in the morning, how does he avoid spitting in the mirror?” To think of this guy being the president of the United States, this ambition and love of power combined with being on the wrong side of every issue, it’s a very scary prospect.
Now that Cruz is gaining in the polls, Trump is focusing on whether or not Cruz can actually be president since he was born in Canada. Whether or not anyone thinks the Constitution should be changed, it does plainly say that you have to be a “natural-born citizen” to be the president of the United States, and he is not.
That is what’s in the Constitution. To me, what’s interesting about that is the way Donald Trump, even though he’s not a career politician, seems to instinctively understand what so many career politicians have trained for years to learn, which is how to defeat an opponent, how to go after his weakness. Look at what he’s doing to Hillary [Clinton] now. He’s taken a page from the Karl Rove/Lee Atwater book: Find the person’s weak point—which sometimes can be their strong point. They went after John Kerry for being a war hero, and he was a war hero. Somehow, they made the draft-dodger into more of a patriot than the guy who went to Vietnam and fought bravely! And Hillary’s ace card is women, and he’s turning that on her head by relitigating Monica Lewinsky.
Well, it’s not just Lewinsky. He’s relitigating Bill Clinton’s entire scandalous past with women, from Juanita Broaddrick all the way up to Lewinsky.
Sure. Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Gennifer Flowers. And let’s not forget the [Jeffrey] Epstein plane that went to orgy island! I’m very curious about when the Jeffrey Epstein stuff will come up, because evidence-wise, that seems the most damning.
Yeah. Because that sounds like the kinds of circles Donald Trump travels in, and knows someone like that. It’s interesting what happened with that because it came up, then Clinton put the quash on it, “Yeah, I met him a couple of times. I was on his plane. I never saw any underage Russian hookers. Maybe they were in coach, and I was in first class!”
Not even a hooker but an alleged “sex slave” who claims Clinton visited “orgy island.”
Right, right. If that came back in a way that was damaging to Bill Clinton—God, underage Russian hookers and sex slaves? Christ, you can get through a few things in American politics, but now we’re in Roman Polanski territory.
When you talk about Hillary, now Bernie Sanders is really right behind her. He’s polling ahead of her in several states, and other polls contend that he’s polling better against the GOP candidates than Hillary—though that notion seems more then a little far-fetched. I know you semi-endorsed Bernie on the show, so the real question is: Can Bernie actually be elected president of the United States?
This is the exact question that I’m going to be asking the panel this week, and it’s a question that didn’t have as much relevance until this week, now that he’s almost even in the polls. Now that we are plainly six months into the Trump era—the era when there are no more rules in American politics—you kind of have to throw away the rule book and say, “We don’t know.” It’s completely uncharted territory. It’s like there are two elections going on: One is between the Republicans and the Democrats, and one is between the establishment and the anti-establishment.
And I know Nate Silver and lots of other people say it’s impossible for Donald Trump to get elected president, but as I’ve always said: Something is impossible until it isn’t. And so far, Donald Trump has defied everybody’s predictions, and he’s still there, and he only seems to get stronger. The guy eats third rails for breakfast. I mean, what would he have to say? He’s already said, “Carly Fiorina, you’re too ugly to be president! John McCain, you’re not a war hero! Hey, would you like to see my impression of a guy with cerebral palsy?” I mean, what would he have to do, fart in Jesus’ face or call Ronald Reagan a fag? I have no idea what this guy would have to do to make his crowd turn on him. He’s like a movie monster who only gets stronger with the stuff that you’re using to try to kill him. So with this atmosphere, I think anything is possible—and that means Bernie Sanders is possible.
It is pretty rich for Donald Trump to be going after Bill Clinton for his numerous affairs when Donald Trump was reportedly having sex with Marla Maples while his wife Ivana and their three children were at church.
People don’t think or vote logically. They like Trump. He excites something in the lizard part of their brain, and he knows how to touch a certain sensitive point in the kind of people who are nothing like him, and have absolutely nothing in common with a billionaire.
Well, besides his trumped-up accent.
Yeah, exactly. But he talks about how America doesn’t win anymore and how we’re going to be great again, and he has his pulse on people the way few politicians before him have.
With Hillary, what is going on? Bernie’s right at her heels, and she’s going on Ellen DeGeneres’s show and dabbing. Her attempts at appearing “human” and endearing are laughably transparent.
Connecting was never her strong suit. She’s a policy wonk, which is the Democrats’ strong suit; they understand government. They’re sometimes no prizes themselves, but compared to Trump and Ben Carson, they don’t have to be taught the names of the continents, and they know how government works. Look, she’s too centrist for me and she’s too in bed with Wall Street and Monsanto, but she’d be a capable leader. I wouldn’t be concerned with her blowing the world up.