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The Biggest Takeaway from Trump’s Barstool Suck-Up Session

The president’s anti-Black Lives Matter shtick is so extreme he’s even lost the Barstool bros.
July 25, 2020
The Biggest Takeaway from Trump’s Barstool Suck-Up Session

President Trump invited Dave “El Presidente” Portnoy to the White House on Thursday for a discussion vaguely resembling an “interview,” as part of the president’s recent PR offensive aimed at turning around his flagging campaign.

For those who are unfamiliar, Portnoy is the head of Barstool Sports—a sports blog and podcast network tailored to the frat-bro demographic—and is known for an irreverent, anti-PC, bro sensibility and a Trumpian devil-may-care attitude to the snowflakes who might blanch when he sings along with the n-word or riles up his man-boy fan base with some sexist locker room talk.

Some might see the simple fact that Trump would welcome such a guy to the White House at all as politically problematic. After all, Portnoy lost his ESPN partnership over calling a female reporter a “bible thumping freak” and “fucking slut” whose “#1 requirement is you make men hard.”

And given that the president’s poll numbers with women are tumbling below the Mendoza Line, maybe palling around with the guy who said that women “kind of deserve to be raped if they’re a size 6 and wear skinny jeans” and “subtle sexual harassment is fine and dandy” isn’t putting his tiny finger on the pulse of what women want.

But hey, he’s the president. Maybe the Suburban Housewives of America spent the whole week watching their soaps and worrying about Antifa and they really just needed to be told “Saturdays Are For The Boys.”

Who’s to say.

But the most telling part of the encounter wasn’t Portnoy’s preposterous presence in the Rose Garden. It was the fact that during an interview that even Portnoy’s business partner said contained “no hard questions,” El Pres still managed to stump The Pres and demonstrate just how out of step Trump is with the cultural mores that have been shifting beneath his feet.

The moment came in the second question of the interview (that is, if you count Portnoy asking Trump to explain how he managed to not get fooled by Ali G as the first “question”).

Portnoy prefaces the question saying that at first he was against Colin Kaepernick’s protest, but that over the years, he’s come around to the view that it’s better than violent protest and asks Trump what he would suggest as an alternative. Trump gives a typically rambling reply in which he offers “becoming successful” as the appropriate protest and then brags about finding an antiquated law that would allow him to jail vandals for 10 years.

It’s worth reading the whole rambling mess:

Portnoy: One of the things that I have a question for, and again, I think it matters. I’m very curious in the answer. So when the Kaepernick thing started, I was critical of it. And as it’s continued baseball players, now, I heard you say, if they kneel, you’ll turn the game off. And we got the Black Lives Matter protests. So for me, it’s like, how does somebody who’s dissatisfied, in your world, what’s the way for them to show it? Because we don’t want them looting and doing all this stuff they’re doing. To me, a silent protest that is far better than, you know, going out on the streets and creating crime. So I’m curious, what, what would you do, if you had an issue with the country or something to show your displeasure?

Trump: Well, I mean, you can always say you run for office, right? You become successful. You could run for a lower office, you can do things. But there are ways. You get groups together and they can be very friendly ways of doing it. Very successful. I mean, you’re going to have rebounds, negative rebounds, if it keeps up the way it is. Like, as an example, Portland, this is crazy—51 days, you know, we sent in very powerful, uh, not military, but very strong people. Uh, the police are good, but they were told not to do anything, you know, by the radical left mayor. No, you have to go out and you have to say and speak your mind is good. I think speaking your mind is good, but you have to do it fairly. Uh, we are for justice, but we’re for law and order, it’s gotta be law and order. And there is law and order. Uh, I put something out when they were starting to rip down statues. I went out, I found an old law, an old bill. You couldn’t get it passed today. You get 10 years in jail, 10 years and no games. And we have a lot of people in jail right now. If you rip down a statue, a federal statue, because the states have to take care of their own, unfortunately, cause I’d do that too. But you rip down a federal statue, you get 10 years in jail. 10 years. No, you know, three months. And nothing’s happened since then. It was amazing. I signed it. I had a news conference. I said, if you do it, and we were supposed to have thousands of people march on Washington that day. Nobody showed up.

Beyond the incoherence there was something very revealing about both the question and Trump’s answer.

Because it was the unapologetically un-PC shock jock who demonstrated a moment of clarity and personal growth when it comes to Black Lives Matter while the president remains oblivious to what’s banging down his door.

Whether it was a genuine change of heart or a deft move by a businessman who knows a lot of his listeners are protesting in the streets, Portnoy came around to the view that even if some of the BLM stuff isn’t his cup of chowder, this is America and the people have a right to express their displeasure if there is something happening that they don’t like.

It’s the kind of position that you could imagine a bizarro Donald Trump staking out, really.

But our stubborn, childish, grievance-lugging, cosplay president just can’t bring himself to get there.

The result? The Queens Confederate finds himself in an anti-Black Lives Matter box so small that not even a toady Barstool bro fits in it.

It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it. Portnoy, a guy who was embroiled in a scandal related to his past racist comments this month, a guy who has called himself “uncancellable,” tried to throw the president a Black Lives Matter lifeline—and got stiff-armed.

That’s not a good place for the president to be and his isolation on this matter is reflected in the data. Vanity Fair reported yesterday that a June swing-state poll showed that even among voters who “Lean Trump,” 59 percent (!!) said that the protesters were “completely right” or “somewhat right” while 72 percent of swing voters said the same.

These voters aren’t asking Donald Trump to head out to Nats Park and kneel next to the players. They aren’t asking him to defund the police. They are simply looking for a president to show the bare minimum interest in their cause, in racial justice, in uniting the country. They are looking for a president who merely recognizes that in this country silent protest is welcome. That everyone, all races, all creeds get the chance to say their piece.

The Barstool bro came around to it. But Donny from Queens is too much of a hardo to figure it out.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.