Deflect. Play the victim. Attack. Repeat.
The strategy was familiar, as was the name. But the only thing smooth about Donald Trump Jr.’s appearance on “The View” on Thursday was the hair slick atop his head and co-host Meghan McCain’s composure.
There they were, the son of a historically unpopular, ethically challenged president and the daughter of a revered Washington legend, seated across from each other, dancing around their fathers’ hatred of each other at the Hot Topic table. Their exchange — indeed, this entire week on “The View” — proved once again that ABC’s long-running chat-fest isn’t just a key stop on the campaign trail. It might be American television’s closest approximation of the “kitchen table” of stump-speech fame, where we sit, sip and squabble over politics.
By the time McCain refocused the attention, of course, the molten conversation was well underway: Sunny Hostin had called Trump Jr. a liar, and Whoopi Goldberg refused to speak his full name.
Trump Jr. was there to promote his father’s 2020 campaign — and his own book, “Triggered,” about how hard it is being Trump. “The View” hosts McCain, Goldberg, Hostin, Joy Behar and Abby Huntsman were on a mission to get straight answers from him. Neither side was particularly successful.
Voluminous, verbal bulldozing was Trump Jr.’s non-winning tactic as he talked over all the women on the panel, including the one who came with him. Girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News personality and senior adviser to President Trump’s reelection campaign, tried to play mediator while singing the praises of the Trumps; the usually gregarious Behar had to hold her ears and ask Trump Jr. to stop yelling. And since he had no other game plan than Operation Bellow & Gaslight, cross-talk was his answer when Huntsman asked Trump Jr. why he revealed the name of someone identified on some online sites as the whistleblower in a tweet when it was dangerous to do so, or when Hostin confronted him with a readout of the extortionate phone call at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
McCain’s approach was markedly different when it came time for her to address the 41-year-old guest, and it produced one of the few reflective moments in an otherwise loud, argumentative “discussion.” She maintained a measured tone when she said the senior Trump had hurt a lot of people on his way up. The Khans, for instance, are a Gold Star Family who lost their son in battle, and he insulted them. She asked if the president might apologize.
Trump Jr. answered with a mess of words, all seemingly from a conversation he was having on a talk show in an alternate universe: “I understand he’s controversial. I understand he offended a lot of people. But he took on the establishment, and that’s the premier sin in American politics these days.”
Was it worth it, though, she pressed, hurting all those people?
And for a minute, Trump Jr. was caught off guard by McCain’s very apparent struggle to conceal her own pain. President Trump consistently mocked the war record and integrity of her father, Sen. John McCain, before and after his death. In a loose setting like “The View,” which is neither light morning fare nor hard-line politics, that ache was palpable. And remarkably, Trump Jr.’s face belied something close to shame.
“The View” is one of the few places left on TV where liberal, conservative and moderate voices pose questions that real folks might ask rather than indulging in the wonk talk of political podcasts or the punditry of Fox or MSNBC. And the result is raw moments that are as authentic as they are viral.
Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard appeared on the show this week, getting into it with Behar when the host suggested that Gabbard might be an “unwitting” asset of Russia: “Not that that means you’re stupid, but people can be used.”
“That exactly what that means,” replied Gabbard. “Let me start with how offensive it is to say that I’m a witting or unwitting asset of a foreign country, working against the interests of my country, a country that I am willing to lay my life down for. So if you are saying it’s not deliberately, then you are implying that I am too stupid and too naive and lack the intelligence to know what I am doing.”
Also this week, actress/environmental activist Jane Fonda spoke about her recent arrests during protests to spur action on global warming. “We’re the last generation between the life and death of the planet,” she warned, and the conversation got serious from there.
Trump Jr.’s segment wasn’t necessarily all that hard-hitting or informative. But it was revealing for that one, honest split second with McCain, and the other 47 ½ minutes of fact-juggling and reality reversal.
Trump isn’t a bully, by his son’s logic, but the victim of a pack of bullies: the vicious liberal media, PC culture and, of course, the Democrats. The Democrats had it out for my dad the moment he was elected, bawled Junior. Goldberg, who’d spent most of the segment imploring everyone to stop talking over one another, stopped him right there: “He’s the president,” she said. “Let me remind you of what happened right after Obama was elected. [Mitch McConnell said] ‘We’re going to make sure he’s a one-term president.’ … Part of being president is having a pair that can take whatever heat comes toward you.”
As with our own kitchen tables — and in contrast to any number of ideologically siloed cable news programs — the range of political opinions on “The View,” along with the sense of familiarity its format breeds, creates a dynamic back-and-forth that’s rare on TV these days.
When Trump Jr. suggested that no one cared when his father was sent white powder in the mail, for instance, complaining of an uneven playing field, Goldberg turn the whining around: She asked if it bothered him that the person he revealed as the whistleblower could be getting white powder in the mail.
“We don’t know that’s actually happening to him,” said Trump Jr.
“We don’t know it happened to you,” Goldberg shot back.
Did “The View” get out of hand at times on Thursday? Sure. Does “The View” often devolve into a sparring match, whether between guests and hosts or among the hosts themselves? Most definitely. That’s why “The View” is a morning show we’re still checking in on, more than 20 years after its debut: Sometimes, when you disagree about politics with your nearest and dearest, you just have to have it out.