“What’s going on?” Boris Epshteyn demanded.
He looked annoyed.
“Give him a second, Boris,” Cliff Sims answered in a calming tone—referring to someone off-camera. “It’s all right.”
He looked amused.
Kellyanne Conway sat to their left, her head down, fixated on her smartphone.
She looked exhausted.
And so, with production values more akin to “Wayne’s World” than World News Tonight, “Trump TV”—or whatever Donald Trump’s soon-to-end campaign is calling its brave new foray into live video programming—launched its nightly news report Monday evening for the final two weeks of the 2016 presidential race.
Saturday Night Live will know what to do with this.
Conway, Trump’s nominal campaign manager, and Epshteyn and Sims, who claim the titles of senior advisers, sat at a cheap-looking wooden table on scuffed and dented wooden chairs, their mahogany stain flaking off at the edges, in what the co-hosts identified as the campaign war room in Trump Tower.
From the inert camera position (or more likely a laptop—at one point the show was interrupted by that signature blaring Skype noise), the war room was an institutional-yellow-painted and by all appearances windowless, airless space, illuminated by harsh overhead lighting and accessorized with a silkscreen portrait of the candidate in his younger, svelter years, five flat-screen televisions, a sagging American flag pinned to a far wall, and a backdrop of maybe half a dozen workers sitting at computer screens, amid several empty desks, doing God knows what while approximating a hubbub.
Conway, wearing a purple dress—maybe as an homage to the swing states—touted Trump’s apparently encouraging poll results and his “paths to victory.” Epshteyn, in a three-piece suit and bruise-colored necktie, and Sims, in a gray suit and turquoise tie, joined in the happy talk of a political reality bracingly different from the one being presented by the mainstream cable and broadcast outlets—namely, a menacing prediction of a Hillary Clinton win on Nov. 8.
“You guys don’t have to take it from the media filter,” the bearded Sims, an Alabama political activist-turned-Trumpkin, exhorted the program’s 37,000-odd viewers on Trump’s official Facebook page, as Epshteyn’s eyeballs scanned back and forth in what seemed a permanent glare.
“The race is not over,” Sims added, and Conway agreed.
“Let me just say, unequivocally, that we will win!” she declared before telling the two hosts, “Thanks for having me”—as if they had a choice.
There were, of course, numerous references to “Crooked Hillary” and her penchant for graft and the corruption of her supporters. Sims made a bid for demographic inclusiveness with an impassioned appeal to potential Trump voters who are, as he put it, “white, black, red, yellow, purple, or polka-dotted.”
In due course, Sims—who acted as emcee and straight man, while Epshteyn provided the humor, at one point turning around and screaming an unintelligible yet no doubt funny nickname at an unseen campaign staffer—threw to fellow Trumpkin Tomi Lahren at Glenn Beck’s The Blaze studios in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas.
The screen went black for several beats, and eventually Lahren appeared as a twentysomething platinum blonde in a black, possibly cleavage-revealing cocktail number (it was hard to tell for sure, what with the incessant crawl at the bottom of the screen pleading for donations).
Lahren wasn’t quite camera-ready, and at first—for what seemed an uncomfortable eternity—she screwed up her mouth in a series of sour expressions before realizing that it was showtime.
Then, at a breakneck pace, she rattled off a bunch of thoughts about her kinship with fellow deplorables, draining the swamp from which Hillary arose, the patriotism of right-wing video prankster James O’Keefe (“a journalist in the true sense of the word”), the battle for Mosul in Iraq, the pro-Clinton fundraisers of Cher and Barbra Streisand, and how the Clinton campaign has been infiltrating Trump rallies and those of his running mate Mike Pence, with “people dressed as ducks… to incite violence!”
All the while the logo of The Blaze was behind her—prompting me to wonder why Beck permits the use of his facilities to promote the candidacy of a man (i.e. Trump, after the Billy Bush tape) he has urged to drop out and dubbed “the right’s Anthony Weiner” who will end his campaign in “epic shame.”
After Lahren, the next guest was Sean Spicer, the chief strategist of the Republican National Committee—who, without addressing reports that the Republican National Committee has financially abandoned its problematic standard-bearer, spun all sorts of rosy scenarios about the party’s get-out-the-vote operations.
Spicer allowed himself only a brief flash of disappointment.
“I thought there was free food,” he complained.
Finally, after around half an hour of this stuff—unwatchable, by normal standards, and yet addictive and irresistible—the screen went black again. After a minute or so, the scene switched to Monday night’s Trump event in Tampa, Florida.
The candidate swaggered onto the stage, giving that reflexive thumbs-up and breaking into self-applause, to the strains of Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be an American” and the roar of an unseen audience, which Trump claimed numbered 20,000, with 7,000 more desperate to get in the hall.
Eventually, as he delivered his crowd-pleasing stump speech seething with invective, he arrived at his standard climax—which is when he turns on the hapless political reporters on the press risers in the back.
“These people are among the most dishonest people in the world—the media,” Trump all but spat the word as the crowd erupted in boos. “They’re the worst!
“They’re trying to fix the election for Crooked Hillary. Let them turn the cameras to see the crowd. Let them turn the cameras. But they never do it.
“They don’t want to show the crowd. They don’t want to show what’s happening. They don’t want to show the movement… So sad!”
The camera stayed tightly, claustrophobically on the Republican nominee.
In an irony that would verge on hypocrisy but for the obvious technical issues, even Trump TV didn’t show his crowd.