Donald Trump, the host with the most

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, Nov. 5:

Live from New York, it’s The Donald!

Of course it is. Donald Trump is a walking, talking ratings magnet — just ask him — and “Saturday Night Live” could sure use a bump.

The first three GOP presidential debates, starring Trump, have set records for Fox News (24 million viewers), CNN (23 million) and CNBC (14 million, despite going head to head with a World Series game).

“SNL” averaged 6.2 million viewers last season.

This week will be Trump’s second time hosting “Saturday Night Live.” The first was in 2004, when his reality show, “The Apprentice,” was winding up its first season, but his opening monologue could be recycled almost without edits for 2015:

“It’s great to be here at ‘Saturday Night Live.’ But I’ll be completely honest, it’s better for ‘Saturday Night Live’ that I’m here. Nobody’s bigger than me, nobody’s better than me. I’m a ratings machine!”

Back then, Trump’s most famous public utterance was “You’re fired.” This year there’s no telling what Trump will say (or tweet). He’s called his critics liars, losers and worse. He’s engaged in a coarse public feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. This week, he retweeted a photo of rival Jeb Bush next to a swastika. It’s hard to imagine that even Trump believes half the things he says, but he’s right about one thing: He is ratings gold.

This week, as some GOP candidates groused about the moderators in the CNBC debate and demanded changes in the format for the rest of the schedule, Trump mused modestly on Twitter: “No complaints but how many people would be watching these really dumb but record setting debates if I wasn’t in them? Interesting question!”

Not everyone is looking forward to watching Trump on the 30 Rock stage. Dozens of Hispanic organizations protested outside the studio Wednesday, and nearly a half-million people have signed online petitions calling for NBC to cancel Trump’s appearance.

They say Trump disqualified himself with his inflammatory rants against Mexican immigrants, characterizing them as rapists and drug traffickers. In June, those remarks caused NBC — home to “Saturday Night Live” — to sever its business ties with Trump, including refusing to air the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants.

“Did I miss an apology?” U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago, said after the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called on NBC to “disinvite” Trump from “SNL.” Welcoming him back to the show “legitimizes Trump’s hateful views and rewards his hate speech,” the National Hispanic Media Coalition said.

Count us among the many who do not find Trump’s remarks about immigrants funny. But Trump himself? There’s so much to lampoon. His hair, his ego, his romantic life. The skit about his Twitter feed practically writes itself: One of the richest men in the world stares at his iPhone all day, retweeting every kudo and punching out angry replies to his critics. Moron! Lightweight!

Sketch comedy doesn’t legitimize its subjects, it skewers them. Ask Sarah Palin. Or Hillary Clinton. Sure, they came across as good sports for withstanding “SNL’s” caustic mockery. But it’s hard to see how that helped their political aspirations.

It did wonders for Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, though. Trump could be the best thing that’s ever happened to Taran Killam, whose challenge is to parody the over-the-top candidate. Good luck with that.

Trump knows why he’s hosting “SNL” this week and Rand Paul, for example, is not: “It’s called ratings.”

That’s how “Saturday Night Live” picks the people who host the show. Let’s not confuse it with how America picks its president.


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