If you can’t wait for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, two unlikely surrogates for the candidates sat down for what is sure to be a kinder, gentler version of Monday night’s big showdown.
Yes, debate day in America brought notoriously ornery Fox News host Bill O’Reilly to the notoriously nice Ellen DeGeneres’s daytime talk show. And while O’Reilly was ostensibly there to discuss the latest in his Killing series of books, they spent a good deal of their time talking about the presidential race.
DeGeneres is an unabashed Clinton supporter, telling the Democratic candidate, “You know what a supporter I am,” during an interview with her earlier this year. O’Reilly’s relationship to Trump is more complicated, despite his role as one of the most conservative hosts on cable TV. He has been tougher on Trump than some of his Fox News colleagues and said last week that he has no intention of endorsing the Republican candidate, just as he has never made political endorsements in previous elections.
Still, O’Reilly has a far easier time discussing politics than DeGeneres, who opened their interview by saying she just wants everybody to “get along” and “love one another.” But as she rightly noted, the rhetoric in this election years feels “more toxic than it’s ever been” and there was some inherent irony in asking someone who makes his living on cable news how we can make it better.
Pivoting to the debate, O’Reilly predicted both Trump and Clinton will be “less nasty” and “more measured” than people think, putting faith in the candidates to be “civil” because “Americans wants problems solved.”
The Fox host was hesitant to say he is “friends” with Trump, saying it’s not like they “hang together,” despite the fact that, as DeGeneres pointed out, “There are pictures of you hanging together” at Knick games and other sporting events. When Trump first told him privately that he was thinking about running for president, O’Reilly joked in response, “Of what country?” He said he had “no idea” that Trump would end up following through with his plans. “Because it is a very harsh game,” he said of running for president. “And he has a very thin skin.”
But in the next breath, O’Reilly was defending his non-friend, saying Trump is “not some sort of irresponsible crazy man” who’s going to invade Russia if Vladimir Putin makes fun of his hands. Similarly, he backed Trump’s refusal to release any tax returns. “As a journalist, I’d love to see them.” O’Reilly said, “but it would kill him as a politician, because that would become the story in the last five weeks of the campaign.”
Asked by DeGeneres if the American people have a “right” to see Trump’s finances, O’Reilly said, “You don’t have a legal right to see them.” Looking at it from Trump’s “point of view,” O’Reilly said he hopes the American people will understand why he’s not releasing the information.
“If he’s going to attack his opponent for being dishonest or doing things that are sneaky, then he should not have anything to hide,” DeGeneres shot back, echoing what is sure to be an argument made by Clinton on Monday night.
“I think Americans can assume that [Trump] doesn’t want, before the election, you to see what he did,” O’Reilly concluded, a line he intended as a defense of the candidate but which sounded like more of an indictment.
Finally, DeGeneres asked O’Reilly why he doesn’t run for president himself, now that someone like Trump has shown that pretty much anyone can do it. He said he’s not interested in the “nasty game” that is electoral politics. “Do I want to put my kids through that?” he asked, drawing applause from the audience when he praised President Obama for the way he has managed family life within the White House.
As DeGeneres said goodbye, O’Reilly sounded a little disappointed that she didn’t make him dance.