Will Hosting 'SNL' Help OR Hurt Donald Trump? It's Actually Pretty Complicated

by Jill Di Donato

Real estate mogul and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump will likely attract a huge audience when he hosts SNL Nov. 7. But viewers don’t necessarily equal votes. Will Trump’s SNL appearance actually help his campaign, or possibly hurt it? Some pundits claim that The Donald hosting is more than a reflection of Trump’s prominence in the current news cycle and says something icky about the agenda-setting power of an entertainment show and political power in the our country. In other words, the show frontrunners of SNL know that Trump’s appearance will bring ratings gold. But as ad money fills the coffers of the already popular TV show, we have to ask, what is the real cost?

By parodying or poking fun of political issues, SNL writers and showrunners are in a position to bundle important election topics — like immigration, racism in America, gun control, and women’s rights — thereby taking a hard pill to swallow (like, say, Trump’s stance on border control, his opinions on keeping guns in the hands of Americans or his views on women) and making them easily digestible. As political journalist Alisa Solomon wrote in an Oct.31 article in Fortune:

At a time when voting is treated with the gravity of clicking on a Facebook ‘like’ button … SNL’s invitation to Trump reveals how politicians aren’t just exploiting the entertainment industry for its reach. The entertainment industry can exploit their blustering buffoonery for laughs.

It’s true that air time is important to campaigns — why else would political candidates spend so much on TV ads — and Trump doesn’t have the platform he once did. NBC cancelled his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants and allegedly axed him from The Apprentice (Trump claims he left voluntarily). The fact that the network is putting him back on its airwaves with this much-anticipated SNL gig is not only probably a personal coup for him but also continues the visibility streak the campaign has given him, which has in turn helped expose him to many more potential voters. And with the latest Real Clear Politics stats putting Trump ahead of Ben Carson, the last thing people who oppose his candidacy want is to give The Donald more of a platform.

If he plays his cards right, and he’s just outrageous enough, Trump’s appearance could further enhance his real-talker appeal with voters — after all, that’s his whole schtick; he’s not politically correct because like his daughter Ivanka, a purported advisor to her father’s campaign, declared, “He says what he means and he means what he says.”

Because Trump is a seasoned performer, he’s likely to play it right. This is a man whose hero is Reagan, not only a two-term president, but star of the Oscar-nominated Kings Row and Santa Fe Trail (opposite Errol Flynn, nonetheless).

It’s tempting to suggest that the show could be bad for Trump if the comedians and producers go hard on him. SNL has two options: it can keep the humor lighter, treating spectacle and a joke, or it can take on Trump’s often racist, sexist views more pointedly.  In my opinion, if the show’s writers do not take that approach, they will be legitimizing Trump’s exclusionary and offensive stance on multiple issues. That said, even if SNL does a great job of skewering Trump’s views, it still may not make any difference.

Matthew Rozsa, a political columnist for Salon and MSNBC, tells Romper, “The odds are people who already support Trump will think highly of the appearance and people who despise him won’t change their views. He’s such a polarizing figure with a crystallized perception, that I suspect people are going to walk away with whatever impression they already had.”

According to Rozsa, it’s pretty well-known that the writers of SNL are not seeking to promote him. He tells Romper, “Lorne Michaels could be cravenly using him for ratings, but I can’t really speak to the motivations of the show frontrunners.”

Asked to try to get inside Trump’s head, Rozsa cracks a joke, “I’d try but it’s hard to navigate around the hair plugs.” I guess when it comes to Trump in the White House, everyone’s a comedian. As for whether or not Trump’s appearance on SNL will help or hurt his campaign, Rozsa urges people to let the episode play out.

Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images