George Pataki, a candidate for the Republican nomination who is currently averaging only about 1% in the polls, responded to Donald Trump’s recent appearance on Saturday Night Live by submitting an equal air time request to NBC on Friday, November 13. Pataki’s letter to NBC, on the basis of FCC regulations that entitle all GOP candidates to the same 12 minutes and 5 seconds that Trump enjoyed as the host of SNL, essentially demanded that they provide him with a similar chance to communicate with the American people. Moreover, in his request, Pataki and his spokesman made little secret of their disdain for Trump.
“Trump’s ideas are either fantasy or comedy, so every time he goes on the air we should be eligible for equal time, but we’ll settle for twelve and a half minutes,” Pataki’s spokesman, Dave Catalfamo, remarked to CNN.
John Kasich and Lindsey Graham, both of whom are similarly running near the bottom in the polls, have also sent letters to NBC requesting “equal time” after Trump’s controversial TV appearance.
“Senator Graham is due an equal opportunity to appear on your station after Mr. Trump’s appearance,” wrote Graham’s chief counsel, Brendan Parets.
These agitated “equal time” requests on the parts of Pataki, Kasich, and Graham, however, were not the only negative responses to Trump’s appearance as the host of SNL on November 7, 2015. Controversy and criticism began to surround NBC and SNL, in fact, almost immediately after Trump’s participation in the episode was announced in mid-October.
Indeed, Trump’s participation in the episode attracted protests from more than 200 demonstrators of Latino advocacy groups, who, considering the controversial remarks that Trump made in June regarding Mexican immigrants, viciously criticized NBC for allowing Trump to host the episode.
Moreover, an immigration reform advocacy group dubbed “America’s Voice” forwarded a petition against NBC directly after Trump’s participation as host for the episode was announced in October. That petition urged NBC to dismiss Trump from hosting the episode, and while it garnered over 142,000 signatures, it was to no avail.
Trump’s performance amid heated protests, unsurprisingly, was as unafraid and bold as ever. In a clear attempt to use his current reputation and recent controversies to his own advantage, Trump fielded a number of jokes, jabs, and criticisms throughout the program, one of the most surprising of which occurred when Larry David, cleverly co-opting the $5,000 bounty that protesters had apparently offered to anyone willing to disrupt the live broadcast, shouted, “Trump’s a racist!” As Trump himself remarked in his self-introduction during the first few minutes of the episode, the Republican presidential candidate largely wanted to use his time on SNL to prove to the public that he could “take a joke.”
Some viewers of the program, however, argued that Trump did not field quite enough jokes at his own expense to prove his assertion that he could “take a joke.” James Poniewozik of the New York Times, for example, wrote that SNL “stuck with obvious, anemic political riffs and apolitical sketches that were cringeworthy all around,” and that “no one’s heart seemed to be in anything.”
“Bring back the old America,” wrote Hank Stuever of The Washington Post. “The one where our preeminent vehicle for topical satire would have ably skewered a hateful, nonsensical, vainglorious presidential candidate rather than invite him into the club and give him more of the empty-calorie media attention he seeks.”
These and other critics also argued that a number of the skits in the episode played out much like advertisements for the Trump Presidential Campaign, and did not sufficiently honor SNL’s usual habit of unabashedly lampooning and ridiculing hopeful Presidential candidates, who, like Hillary Clinton in SNL’s program on October 3, occasionally appear as cameos. In fact, the first full-length skit in the episode depicted Trump in the Oval Office in 2018 talking with his associates about how he brought about the defeat of ISIS, the construction of a wall between Mexico and the United States, and the backing down of Vladimir Putin within his first two years of office. The skit also joked that Americans in 2018 have grown “tired of winning.”
Although negative reviews such as these were fairly common of the November 7th episode, particularly considering that protests continued to take place directly outside the studio as it aired, SNL enjoyed its highest viewership in four years as a result of Trump’s participation in the episode, with NBC reporting a 6.6 household rating. While it seems unlikely that the episode will earn a place in the chronicles of the world’s best political satires, the attention and publicity it provided both NBC and Donald Trump has certainly given George Pataki, John Kasich, Lindsey Graham, and other struggling candidates something to be wary about.
-Austin Wash ’16, Senior Politics/Opinions Editor