Because I was feeling masochistic after watching Wednesday night’s presidential debate, I tuned in to the one thing sure to be more stultifying than a CNN roundtable: the “coverage” of the evening’s event being live-streamed on the Trump campaign’s official Facebook page. Here, for the first time, was the campaign’s own version of a post-debate talk-it-over, and though the broadcast was marred by technical difficulties, co-hosts Boris Epshteyn and Cliff Sims seemed almost giddy, as if they were present for the start of something truly big. “We’re here on Trump’s Facebook Live, so glad to be bringing the real message to the American people,” Epshteyn said.
The real message, you will not be surprised to learn, was one of shameless toadyism, reflexive belligerence, and deep stupidity. If it’s true that Trump really aspires to found his own cable news network after losing the election in November, then Wednesday night’s Facebook broadcast might have been an early sneak preview of what Trump TV might look like: a pseudo-journalistic, deeply chintzy entity that’s even less tethered to reality than Fox News. (A note: I was transcribing these quotes in real time as I watched, and there is as of yet no transcript to check them against, so I am largely paraphrasing quotes throughout this article.)
The livestream featured all the hallmarks of the Trump inner sanctum as we’ve come to know it. There was risible cheerleading for the candidate, to start. “ALERT: TRUMP WINS FINAL DEBATE” read the chyron at the bottom of the screen. “All six of the 15-minute segments, total home runs for him,” Epshteyn and Sims agreed at the outset. “You go point by point, he knocked it out of the park.” There was obeisance paid to Trump’s children: a hyperactive Donald Trump Jr. stopped by, as did a relatively more sedate Eric Trump, accompanied by his wife, Lara. There were lots of lame, borderline-misogynistic jabs at Hillary Clinton. “She came out in her white suit, showed her big teeth,” said Judge Jeanine Pirro. “They’re nice, though, those teeth … paid for by the Clinton Foundation, probably,” Epshteyn said.
There were plenty of catchphrases, too: The words “Rudy Giuliani, America’s Mayor” were used so often that I am convinced a Trump TV program with that title is already in the works. The mouths uttering these banalities were attached to a parade of washed-up politicians and hack semi-celebrities: Giuliani; Pirro; Apprentice season 1 contestant Katrina Campins. “First of all, he had an amazing night,” Campins began. “I love that,” cheered Epshteyn, as he offered her a fist-bump. Concomitant with this insta-revisionist rhetoric was a blithe disregard for quantifiable facts: “This is the inaugural direct Facebook Live on Mr. Trump’s Facebook page. Millions will be watching,” an excited Epshteyn told Giuliani, as Facebook itself was showing a mere 58,300 viewers tuned into the stream.
It was kind of funny—really!—until the stream cut to Tomi Lahren, who hosts an eponymous show for the Blaze, Glenn Beck’s online network. Lahren, who is sort of like a younger, less friendly, less credible version of Ann Coulter, struck me as someone who gets her news mainly from YouTube comments. Her commentary ranged from standard media-bashing (“They’re Hillary’s largest super-PAC”) to bizarre hairsplitting (“They love to wave it in our faces that they got Osama bin Laden … Well, I think there are a lot of Navy SEALS sitting around Virginia Beach saying ‘We got Osama bin Laden’ ”) to outright haranguing uncommitted Republicans to get over themselves and vote for Trump. “I’m ready to make America great again, and I’m glad that we’re making debate coverage great again,” Lahren vowed in her signoff. If Trump TV will be a vehicle for the sort of fawning, incompetent sycophancy shown in Wednesday night’s interview segments, then it will also be a vehicle for Lahren’s style of ugly, inane commentary. If it will be these things, then we should steel ourselves for a network that will assault viewers with what you might call Vegas populism: pandering anti-intellectualism mixed with the forced cheer and glitzy desperation of a red-carpet broadcast.
I stopped watching the livestream after about an hour, but before I did, I had the pleasure of seeing Eric and Lara Trump’s interview with Epshteyn and Sims. Epshteyn asked Lara Trump to name her favorite moment from the night’s debate, and she responded by saying that it was Donald Trump’s purported evisceration of Hillary Clinton, and that there was so much to say on that topic. “We can’t do that in just an hour,” she said, and Epshteyn concurred. “We need about two weeks, two months. 24 hours a day!” God help us.