“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen,” David Letterman said when he walked out onto the stage of The View on Friday morning. “I’m very excited, this is nice. I love being on TV!”
The former host of the Late Show—and current host of Netflix’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction—has that trait in common with the president of the United States, who used to be one of his regular guests. There were two people that Letterman said he “could always count on” to deliver a great show in those days. One was his friend Regis Philbin. “And the other one was Donald Trump,” he said. “Donald came on and always got a standing ovation. Can you imagine that now?”
“I would say, Donald, you must be exhausted all day evicting elderly widows and he would laugh and laugh,” Letterman continued. “And I would say, what are you doing, are you wind tunnel-testing your hair? And he would laugh and he would laugh.”
Back then, Letterman said Trump “could take a punch pretty good,” adding, “I think he just liked being on TV and he was an excellent guest for somebody I could just beat up on and smack around and stuff.” He called that Trump a “goofball” and a “bonehead.”
Of course now that he’s president, that has all changed. Looking back at a 1987 interview he conducted during which Trump appeared to dramatically inflate his net worth, Letterman said, “There he seemed like a guy. He seemed just like a guy, right? Were I ever to get the chance to talk to him in person and I won't live long enough for that to happen, but I would say, when did you become a goon? When did that happen?”
When Letterman asked moderator Whoopi Goldberg if she thinks Trump comes up with some of his most radical political ideas himself, she replied, “Oh, hell no!”
Later in the interview, when Meghan McCain got her chance to pose a few questions to Letterman, she asked whether he agreed with his former rival Jay Leno that late-night TV has become too one-sided in the Trump era. “I always liked to humiliate and degrade both sides equally,” Leno told The View hosts a few months ago.
“I can only speak for myself,” Letterman said. “Jay would do the kind of show Jay would like to do and I feel like with things going on, current events seeming what they are—not seeming, actually being what they are—I would have to constantly be on the attack and I'd be fatigued but I would constantly being going at the easiest target because that makes your job much easier.”
He added that he doesn’t think he’d be able to go at both sides equally. “I think people have done pretty well going after one side, but then I understand how that also could alienate part of the audience,” Letterman said. “So I agree with what Jay is saying, but for me I don't think I could operate that way.”
From there, McCain said that for her, “as a conservative woman,” going on a late-night talk show is “no different than going on MSNBC anymore”—a not-so-veiled reference to her recent combative sit-down with Seth Meyers.
Asked if he would approach it that way, Letterman replied, “I would try to, yeah.” Using McCain’s late father as an example, he said, “if there was a difference in ideology, I would respect that person and there might be a tussle” but that it would ultimately be “collegial.” But of course, he added, that was “before Trump.”