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How to Talk About the Mike Pence ‘Hamilton’ Distraction

And all the other strange stories that will inevitably pop up over the next four years

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Friday night, Vice President–elect Mike Pence went to see Hamilton. It went about as awkwardly as you might expect. The crowd booed Pence, and the cast of the show read a message to him after it was over. Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, and Jon Lovett addressed the story on the latest Keepin’ It 1600. Does this even matter, or is it all a distraction?

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Why the Media Is Going to Talk About “Silly” Incidents Like This

Tommy Vietor: A point on this: This [kind of story] is going to happen no matter what because [Donald Trump] is a lunatic who tweets constantly, but [also because] we are still in a period where Trump’s communications team can control the media more than ever before. The reporters have no events to see him at, no press conference, there’s a daily conference call, but they don’t get readouts of briefings. So, we’re reading things from foreign capitals that claim Donald Trump was trying to grease a real estate deal and meanwhile these reporters are like, “What do I do with myself? I guess I’ll cover a video of someone getting booed at Hamilton.” We’re in silly season.

Jon Favreau: Did we just get into silly season now?

Jon Lovett: What was the other season first? What was before?

T.V.: Well, I mean, look: [The Trump campaign] took questions. They had people on the plane who were dealing with reporters every day. Now, the guy’s literally at his golf course wheeling in Mitt Romney or whoever he wants and doing it there.

Is This Story Just a Distraction?

J.F.: We’ve already had the controversy, the response to the controversy, the backlash to the response to the controversy, [and] now we’re moving on. But there was some debate: Was this a distraction from everything else? Should we cover it? Everyone was very self-involved over this Hamilton thing over the weekend. What do we think about this?

J.L.: Two thoughts. One, I think there’s been this debate as to whether Trump [is] an evil genius or [whether] he [is] just firing off tweets. I think that doesn’t matter.

What matters is the impact of what he does. Rather than talk about, “Is it a distraction? Is it not?” We really need to think through how we’re going to deal with this for the next four years.

The way I was thinking about it this weekend is that it’s a bit like a three-ring circus. We have the cultural stuff that Trump is going to use, whether it’s some [Steve] Bannon–like strategy or his strange, narcissistic compulsions to talk about whatever grievance to excite his base. Meanwhile, there’s going to be these institutional challenges, whether it’s him chit-chatting about new hotels in India or trying to get diplomats to stay at the Trump D.C. hotel, and then there’s going to be the policy agenda, which is looking more and more like a right-wing dream. So we can’t pretend these things are not happening.

How Should People Talk About These Kinds of Stories?

J.L.: I just think there’s another way of talking about these things. We have to be able to talk about all the things that Trump is doing at once, and we can’t pretend that these distractions aren’t distracting, but we also can’t ignore them, either.

T.V.: Yeah, it’s the dumbest debate since the blue or gold dress, right? Just because of the amount of energy wasted. I mean, I’m OK if you’re offended that he was booed. I’m OK if you find it ridiculous that Trump demanded an apology. [But Trump] had a $25 million [settlement of a] fraud case and we ended up really not talking about that nearly as much, and that is the part that bothers me. I’m not coming down on anyone for caring that he was booed.

J.F.: I never want to argue that Trump is an evil genius about anything. For sure. I just think we should all be clear-eyed that the overall strategy of Steve Bannon is to create this massive backlash against global elites in places like L.A. and New York and San Francisco, where your hosts are today. And anything that comes up that gives them an opportunity to continue this backlash and to pit most of the country against a bunch of coastal elites [is something] they’re going to go after and they’re going to exploit. And whether they did it on purpose or not, that is the effect of what they’re doing. So the more we focus on that, the better it is for them. And like you already saw some reporters go out and talk to Democrats, Hillary voters, other working class [people], and ask them about this, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I think that was disrespectful.” So like we have to be aware that they are furthering the cultural divide here and they like it. They love it. Whether they intended it or not, they love it.

T.V.: Trump may not be playing chess, but there’s a chance he’s playing checkers, and have you met our political reporters? They may lose at checkers.