The Persistent 'Both Sides' Mediocrity Of Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart

Photo by Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

Thank you, Mary Trump, for plumbing the shallow waters of Jon Stewart's wit. A psychologist and sharp critic of her uncle Donald, Mary Trump accused the Daily Show host of long suppressing the liberal vote by telling his fan base that the candidates stink equally. She cites political research showing that his what's-the-difference jabbering helped elect Donald Trump in 2016.

But Stewart's recent resurfacing with a nuance-free view of the current presidential choices was truly the last straw to drift off the bale. After reciting some antique jokes about AARP cards, Stewart shifted into his old brand of analysis, holding that Donald Trump and Joe Biden were basically the same.

"We're not suggesting neither man is vibrant, productive or even capable," Stewart said with his don't-you-love-me grin. "But they are both stretching the limits of being able to handle the toughest job in the world."

To which Mary Trump wrote in response: "In what universe is Donald vibrant, productive or capable?? And this statement wasn't even tongue-in-cheek. Stewart was making a straight-up comparison."

It would seem that a president who has successfully managed two global conflicts, resurrected U.S. manufacturing, slashed the price of insulin and overseen the strongest economy in decades would be called "capable." Biden did it, and he didn't grow younger in the process.

Stewart clearly wants everyone to love him, so he uses his both-sides arguments to ingratiate himself with the right, marketing it as truth-telling. Ten years ago, I was sucked into that vortex.

Back then, when bloggers at respectable publications could still get away with junior-high misogyny, a troll at The Wall Street Journal became obsessed with me. He kept calling me a "Baroness Catherine Ashton look-alike," a reference to a British parliamentarian whom he deemed ugly. About that, I could not care less.

Then he accused me of hypocritically trying to censure honest conservative speech, which this once-upon-a-time Republican doesn't do. (I sometimes even agree with it.) He had no idea of what my position was, but that didn't matter.

Anyhow, Jon Stewart swallowed his attacks whole.

The Daily Show treated the powerful New York media with fluffy gloves. But being identified as a lefty in the howling wilderness of Rhode Island, I was regarded as easy game for both-sideism.

And so John Oliver was shipped out to "interview" me. The segment that aired had Oliver repeatedly hollering a bleep-out F word, followed by a spliced-in photo of me allegedly looking shocked, followed by canned laughter. It was on that level.

Stewart's favorite theme was to broadly condemn the mainstream press as hopelessly lazy and incompetent. And then Stewart pinned on me beliefs I never had based on what some blogging bro said they were. He had done zero research.

Stewart opened by hissing "Journalists! Journalists!" After the segment aired, the blogging pest praised it as "comedy gold."

When Oliver had his own show years later, many of the greatest traditional news sources had fallen into deep trouble. The ever-earnest Oliver looked into the camera with doggy eyes and beseeched the audience to subscribe to their local newspapers.

Just a few weeks ago, lo and behold, Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn was recycling one of his raps on liberals when he took yours truly to task for those beliefs I never had. And what was his impeccable source? The Daily Show of 10 years ago. I mean, my real beliefs are all over Google.

As Mary Trump notes, the stakes are too high for guys like Jon Stewart to get away with neutralizing the toxicity of Donald Trump with comparisons totally lacking in substance. It's a creepy kind of brand-building. And it comes at the expense of our fragile democracy.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

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Why Trump's First-Place Finish In Iowa Proves Weakness, Not Strength

President Benjamin Harrison

Donald Trump

On Monday night, Iowans slipped and slid over icy roads to give Donald Trump a 51% victory in the first Republican caucus. On Tuesday morning, the media seemed saturated with stories about Trump’s “landslide win.” The truth is the Iowa results can’t be seen as anything other than a weak candidate in a divided party.

That’s because for the first time since 1892, when comeback Democrat Grover Cleveland beat incumbent Republican Benjamin Harrison, this is an election with essentially two incumbents. Trump is the leader of his party. He’s running against candidates who have repeatedly thanked him for his assistance in winning races, declared him the “best president of the 21st century,” and largely promised to fulfill Trump’s policies—only more so.

With all that going for him, half the Republican Party still said no to Trump.

CBS, and CNN, The Washington Post and The Financial Times, and of course, Fox News are all running headlines this morning swooning over Trump’s “landslide” win. The question shouldn’t be why Trump scraped out a bare majority of Republican voters, but why he didn’t win bigger.

Does anyone believe that if President Joe Biden took just over 50 percent in any state, the press wouldn’t be screaming, “Biden is in big trouble!”

Trump’s opponents are so frightened of displeasing his rabid base that they have barely dared to raise their voices against anything he’s said and refused to go after him even when he demeaned them. Instead, they’ve devoted their time to tearing into each other in a race for second place that seems far more about raising visibility for 2028 or securing the spot for the next guy Trump approves of than it is about getting behind the Resolute desk.

Trump barely got half the vote in a cakewalk against opponents who couldn’t stop genuflecting in his direction and who devoted their time and money to sniping at each other. That he defeated this crew by one percent is not something to brag about. It’s a signal that even in his own party, many voters are looking for an alternative.

This isn’t the first time a president has mounted a try for another term after being defeated. Millard Fillmore tried it. Ulysses S. Grant tried it. Teddy Roosevelt tried it as a third-party candidate. Martin Van Buren tried it twice.

The only person who did it successfully was Cleveland, and there’s something that his races against Harrison share with Trump’s 2016 and 2020 runs. In 1888, Republican candidate Harrison lostthe popular vote but managed to snag a win in the electoral college. In 1892, Harrison lost the popular vote again, as a comeback Cleveland took a wide margin in both popular and electoral votes.

Trump isn’t Cleveland. He’s Harrison. Only Harrison had the good sense not to run again after twice losing the popular vote.

Donald Trump barely cleared the hurdle of getting more votes in Iowa than Ted Cruz did in 2016. No one should be proclaiming Trump’s landslide victory for snagging half of those who came out on a bitterly cold night. They should be wondering why Trump isn’t getting far more. They should be wondering why candidates, and Republican backers, are plowing millions into running against him while nothing like that is happening in the Democratic Party.

If anything good happened for Trump, it was probably Ron DeSantis edging out Nikki Haley. With Haley well ahead of DeSantis and nipping at Trump’s heels in New Hampshire polls going into last night, DeSantis’ second-place finish likely means that the Florida governor devotes even more time to going after Trump’s former UN ambassador while Trump is free to sit back, pull strings, and laugh. And wait for the media to declare his next landslide win.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the years of Benjamin Harrison's elections. The years are 1888 and 1892, not 1890 and 1894.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.