Hours after President Trump posted a pair of ugly tweets attacking cable TV hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, cable news talk shows across the political spectrum featured lengthy, often angry monologues accusing him of demeaning his office as well as women.
Conservatives Charles Krauthammer and Tucker Carlson criticized the tweets on Fox News, with Krauthammer saying, “Presidents don’t talk like this.”
On CNN, Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper dedicated their opening remarks to what Lemon called Trump’s “flat-out gross and disgusting” tweets.
And on a CNN panel Thursday night, USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers got into a lively debate over the definitions of “feminism” and “misogyny” with Trump surrogate Jeffrey Lord.
But even Lord, who usually defends anything and everything Trump does, said, “I don’t think he should have done it.”
Few were as impassioned as Nicolle Wallace, a former communications director for President George W. Bush. On her MSNBC show Thursday afternoon, Wallace delivered a scorched-earth monologue.
“As someone who once proudly called myself a Republican, the party will be permanently associated with misogyny if leaders don’t stand up and demand a retraction,” Wallace said, challenging women in the Trump administration to publicly denounce their boss’s words and “work behind the scenes to educate him about just how offensive they are.”
Wallace singled out Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“Most importantly,” Wallace continued, “as the mother of a son, I ask any woman who’s defending these comments how they plan to raise good men if the most powerful man in the world gets away with this.”
Other conservative hosts shared in her exasperation.
At the beginning of an interview with Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, Fox News anchor Julie Banderas said she would “love to start this segment out about health care, the travel ban” or the controversial off-camera White House press briefings, “but instead I have to start with the president’s tweets.”
McDaniel defended the president’s instinct to fight back against criticisms doled out by Scarborough and Brzezinski, but Banderas pushed back, saying Trump didn’t “need to stoop to that level.”
“I don’t care who you are. You don’t stoop to the level of that,” Banderas said. “I mean that’s like me scolding my 4-year-old for using a bad word and then me repeating it. That’s just not how you run a country or you parent a 4-year-old.”
Krauthammer, the dean of conservative newspaper columnists and a frequent Trump critic, said during a panel with Fox News’s Bret Baier that Trump was behaving like authoritarian leaders.
“Presidents don’t talk like this. They never have,” Krauthammer said. “This is what it sounds like when you’re living in a banana republic. This is how Hugo Chávez would talk about his opponents. This is how the worst dictator, Duterte in the Philippines, would talk about opponents.”
Fox News contributor Mercedes Schlapp pushed back, saying she didn’t support the tweets but understood Trump’s desire to defend himself. She also took issue with Krauthammer’s comparison to dictators, saying Trump was not “sending military guards to go shut down” the press.
“When you defend the president of the United States by pointing out that he hasn’t sent the tanks out in the streets to shut down the media, you’ve reached a fairly low level of defense,” Krauthammer countered.
On various shows across networks, commentators noted that while President Barack Obama faced harsh and often unfair criticism, he didn’t launch personal attacks in response.
“People used to call him a Muslim. People used to call him underqualified, a sellout to America, a hater of Israel,” Banderas said on Fox News. “I mean they called him every name in the book, but you didn’t see him lash out.”
“CNN Tonight” host Don Lemon began his segment Thursday night by asking his producers to kill his intro music.
“I have to say something before we start,” he said. “I have heard and said the phrase ‘this is not normal’ so many times that I’m sick of hearing it and I’m sick of saying it.”
Lemon called Trump’s tweets “flat-out gross and disgusting.”
“Saying it was juvenile would be insulting to children,” Lemon said. “If your children said or did what he tweeted, you would discipline them. Any employee would face some very serious consequences. And for anyone out there, any of you attempting to defend what he did, you’re an enabler.”
Lemon cut to a clip of Thursday’s White House press briefing with deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said that outrage over Trump’s retaliatory insults was hypocritical. She added that it was like “we’re living in the ‘Twilight Zone.’”
“Yes, it is like living in the ‘Twilight Zone,’” Lemon retorted. “The president should be ashamed of himself. But he’s not. He apparently thinks he is proving what a tough guy he is. But he’s actually embarrassing himself, his party and America.”
On the same network, CNN host Anderson Cooper, who has come under fire from some for using sharp language and at times crude references to critique the president, also referenced Sanders’s “Twilight Zone” quote in his opening monologue.
“Somewhere in the ‘Twilight Zone,’ a teeny tiny violin is playing the world’s saddest song for the most powerful man on earth,” Cooper said. “Other than that, few are shedding any tears for the president’s plight.”
Cooper said Trump was “many things, but tough is not one of them.”
“Tough is fighting for the health-care reforms that he actually campaigned on,” Cooper said. “Tough is rising above insults and actually leading. What our president does is not a display of toughness. It’s a display of weakness of character, of thinness of skin.”
He also took considerable time to point out apparent contradictions between the words and actions of the Trump family. Ivanka Trump, he said, had made elevating women a central tenet of her business and political platform, yet had said nothing to condemn her father’s remarks. Melania Trump promised to focus on cyberbullying as first lady but has yet to launch any such initiative, Cooper pointed out.
Cooper opened his show by reading his audience a “passage from a book full of advice on how a president ought to behave.”
“‘The president of the United States is the most powerful person in the world. The president is the spokesman for democracy and liberty. Isn’t it time we brought back the pomp and circumstance and the sense of awe for that office that we all held?’”
“‘The writer went on to say, ‘That means everyone in the administration should look and act professionally, especially the president.’” Cooper read. “The writer concludes, ‘Impressions matter.’”
That quote was from a 2015 book called “Crippled America,” Cooper said. The author was Donald Trump.
“It’s easy at this point to just shrug and say, ‘This is what our president does; it’s who he is.’” Cooper said. “Maybe to some this even seems normal. But it’s not normal. This is the most powerful man on the face of the entire planet.”
Cooper’s frustration was amplified later during a panel debate on his show, when the anchor interrupted his guests to ask: “What about the friggin’ dignity of the presidential office?”
“George W. Bush insisted people wear a tie in the Oval Office, and now that seems like a laughable notion,” Cooper continued. “Like, why should any kid look up to the president of the United States now?”
Lord, the Trump surrogate and a panelist, agreed, but took issue with the notion that the president’s bleeding facelift insult was sexist. Lord argued to fellow-panelists Powers and New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman that Trump doles out equally offensive attacks to his adversaries, regardless of their gender.
“I believe in equality of the sexes,” Lord said.
The panelists countered Lord’s argument, explaining that Trump has a history of disproportionately attacking women on their physical appearance. But Lord said he doesn’t see her “as a woman” but “as an equal, as a talk show host.”
“It has nothing to do with equality,” Powers said. “Equality would be not talking to the woman that way.”
And although grandstanding about misogyny was not an element of Tucker Carlson’s opening monologue Thursday night, the Fox News host did offer his own critique of the president’s ill-advised tweets after mocking what he characterized as a dramatic overreaction from liberals.
Carlson called them “stupid and counterproductive” with “no policy objective.” The tweet “brought joy to the left while embarrassing the president’s supporters.”
“That’s the real tragedy of today’s tweets,” Carlson said. “They were a diversion.”
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