Republicans love to wage wars! They must, considering that the GOP has launched wars on women, Muslims, the mainstream media, science, gotcha questions, and of course, on both Iraq and Afghanistan. Just to name a few.
But now the Grand Old Party is giving us a new one: the war on comedy. I would’ve thought the GOP would’ve preferred to stay focused on fighting CNBC/NBC and their dreaded “gotcha questions.” (Translation: any question that makes a candidate go off his/her focus-group tested answers.) Apparently Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz will stand up to ISIS unless ISIS asks them some tough follow-up questions, then they are outta there.
But no. The GOP, learning nothing from World War II, has opened up a second front by battling comedy.
We should’ve seen these hostilities coming. Just last week, Ben Carson (in between whining about the media and comparing things to slavery) came out hard against comedy. Carson, while criticizing Trump for planning to host Saturday Night Live on Nov. 7, declared, “I think the presidency of the United States is a very serious thing. I don’t even want to begin to put it in the lightness of comedy.”
Carson’s comment was like Hitler renouncing the Treaty of Versailles in order to build a larger military. (And no, I don’t usually reference Hitler but Carson is apparently rubbing off on me.) The world slept after Hitler warned us of his intentions then. And alas, we slept when Carson revealed the GOP’s intentions to attack comedy.
But now as then, the world slept until it was too late. The GOP’s cold war versus comedy has now turned decidedly hot. The first shots were fired Friday when the Iowa State GOP chair denied press credentials to The Daily Show to attend a Republican presidential candidate forum held there over the weekend. Iowa’s GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann explained that he said no to The Daily Show because “we were afraid they were going to make fun of Iowa.”
In the words of Bill O’Reilly, “I’m not buying it!” No one believes The Daily Show was coming to mock Iowans; they wanted to mock the GOP candidates. Kaufmann simply doesn’t want the Republican candidates ridiculed by the comedians, even if that means less freedom of the press.
Plus, mocking Iowa is too easy. Even Iowans make fun of it, calling it “a desolate place, where hopes and dreams go to die, sucked into a black hole of desolation.” And: “Have you ever driven past a farm and smelled it, and couldn’t wait for that smell to go away? Imagine that lasting an entire state. That’s Iowa.”
Then Donald Trump entered this war by launching an offensive against HBO’s John Oliver. This skirmish also began Friday when Oliver appeared on CBS This Morning. There, the comedian joked that he would never want Trump on his weekly HBO show, Last Week Tonight, because Trump is “an open book … that doesn’t have that many interesting words in it.”
Trump responded, as usual, by escalating this battle. It appears that Trump’s campaign strategy is based on the “the Chicago way,” as explained in film The Untouchables. In one of that film’s classic scenes, Jim Malone (Sean Connery) offered Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) advice on how to beat Al Capone’s mob: “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.” Adding, “That’s the Chicago way.”
So Trump, in full “Chicago way” style, took the fight up a notch with his tweet: “John Oliver had his people call to ask me to be on his very boring and low rated show. I said ‘NO THANKS’ Waste of time & energy!” (I know, that tweet screams “presidential.”)
Given the fact that Oliver’s show rarely has guests, I was surprised the show would have invited Trump. And sure enough it turned out the show had not, as noted by its tweet Sunday in response to Trump: “A couple of points…1. Yes, we have a boring show. 2. At no point did we invite Donald Trump to appear on it.” (A source who works at the show confirmed that no invite was ever sent to Trump.)
Well, on Monday Trump doubled down (as he typically does). He accused Oliver of lying and insisted that his HBO show had invited him on “four or five times.”
Now this comedy war has taken a serious turn. Did Trump knowingly lie about being invited on the show? Could this be Trumpgate? I think we need a Benghazi-type hearing to look into this, stat!
Maybe the GOP’s problem with comedy comes from them not fully getting how comedy works. Don’t get me wrong, there a few funny Republicans. But objectively speaking, not many. Worse are the ones who think they are comedic geniuses like Ted Cruz, who has performed a horrific Jay Leno impression on the campaign trial that his followers eat up like he’s the late Robin Williams.
This comedy war may come to head this Saturday night when Trump hosts SNL. Will we hear about Trump refusing to perform certain comedy sketches because he thinks it makes him look bad? Will he fight the writers over content? Will Trump go as far as to pull himself out of sketches or argue to cut sketches after SNL’s dress rehearsal at 8 p.m. because he finds them unhelpful to his campaign?
Or perhaps Trump goes along with everything SNL suggests but then his Republican competitors attack him for joking about serious issues or for not being presidential. Regardless of how the show plays out Saturday, I can assure you that this is one war the GOP can’t win. But it will be fun laughing at them as they wage it.