David Axelrod, who managed Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns and worked as a senior advisor to the president in the Obama administration, told film director Judd Apatow that Hollywood’s hostility toward President Donald Trump may be damaging the Democrat Party’s political fortunes in Middle America.
Axelrod’s concerns were expressed in an interview with Apatow for the former’s semi-eponymous podcast, the Axe Files, published last week ahead of Monday’s 92nd Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
AXELROD: There is clearly a strong sense of antipathy toward the president, president Trump. You see it at the award ceremonies. Every one of them seems to be a little bit of a beat down on him, and I often wonder how that is perceived in Middle America. Even around this whole impeachment thing, you see the president saying, ‘This isn’t just an assault on me. It’s an assault on you.’ Is there a disconnect here? And sometimes I wonder whether Hollywood is — in terms of the cause of making a case against the president — helpful or hurtful in that regard.
APATOW: Well, there’s clearly a very big disconnect in thinking, and we’re all trying to understand why that is. For instance, I always think, ‘Why does anybody think Donald Trump has their back?’ Like, do they think he’s really up late at night trying to solve your problems? His heart aches for your situation? And, so, as a Democrat, one of the things we do is, if somebody’s awful, we make fun of them, because we don’t want people to be awful and people of every ideology do that, and he certainly deserves it.…
Trump may lack awareness of his own communication style, suggested Apatow:
[Donald Trump] certainly has amazing instincts as a communicator. He truly understands flooding the zone, and what I always wondered — and I’m sure one day we’ll find out — is, how much of his style of communication is something that he understands?
Axelrod derided Trump’s political acumen as primal:
I always call it a feral genius, and I think it is an instinct. I don’t think [Donald Trump] sits down and does deep analysis. He is impulsive and instinctive, but he has a feral instinct for how to, particularly, exploit people’s sense of loss, of aggrievement. He is underestimated, I think, frankly, by elites. He understands that market that Roseanne [Barr] talked to.
Apatow framed Trump as a predatory politician akin to a casino owner:
Promoting, probably casinos, and taking all those people’s money. If you sit around the casino floor, I’m sure everyone’s happy to chat with Donald [Trump, and I’m sure he has a great sense of how to talk to people, but, what it really comes down to is, those people didn’t get the tax cut, and so he didn’t come through for anybody. He came through for himself and a group of people and corporations that didn’t really need that, and I just see him as somebody who is betraying their loyalty.
Axelrod characterized Trump as a vehicle of vengeance among the president’s supporters directed towards elites:
I think what he works is, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ and he is the cultural avenger for people who’ve been left behind in the economy and also feel disdained in the culture, and he gets that, and he says, ‘I’m your guy, I’m sticking it to those people who are sticking it to you.’”
I think [Donald Trump] is a source of endless fascination, because we all feel like we’re in danger, but also, in a weird way, I think we feel for him. You can’t help but see like a little kid whose dad treated him awfully, and now he’s just trying to be a big man, and it’s so obvious.
There was a great interview where [Donald Trump] talked about the fact that he never went to therapy, and he was proud of it, and you could feel it. There was no sense of introspection. There’s no part of his mind that imagines what it’s like to be a kid separated from his or her parent, like, what would that feel like? what would it do to you? That’s what I think terrifies us,because he’s not tuned in as a caring soul, and we all wonder, ‘Well, where does that go?’
Axelrod warned, “I would in no way underestimate [Donald Trump] as a candidate.”
Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter @rkraychik.