Ever since Donald Trump’s shocking win in the presidential race on Tuesday, many factors have been credited, or blamed, for the result, from racism and sexism to general cultural resentment to bad strategy by the Clinton side to the general weakness of the Democrat as a candidate. Also, there’s #Jon Stewart. The talk show host who stepped down from "The Daily Show" more than a year before the election has been blamed for Trump’s win by both the left and right this week.
The Daily Blame
“If Jon Stewart Had Not Stepped Down From The Daily Show, Hillary Clinton Would Most Likely Be President” is the headline of a piece that ran this week on TVLine.com. In the piece, author Kimberly Roots argues that were Stewart still in the "Daily Show" chair, he’d have been able to get Hillary Clinton over the line in Wisconsin, Michigan, and/or Pennsylvania. The argument was made multiple times by others throughout the campaign, that Stewart “would have put a stop” to Trump’s candidacy by “eviscerating” him.
Meanwhile, Mollie Hemingway of the conservative site The Federalist wrote this week of “How Jon Stewart And ‘The Daily Show’ Elected Donald Trump.” In the piece, Hemingway blames Stewart for fostering a culture of smug liberal comedy, and his anti-Crossfire rant in 2004 that led to that show’s cancellation.
Not Stewart’s job
While Hemingway’s argument is somewhat more defensible than Roots’, I think they’re both wrong, for a simple reason: they misunderstand exactly what Stewart’s role was, and what his strengths and weaknesses were.
As host of the "Daily Show," Stewart was very good at, essentially, serving as comfort food for a certain caste of educated, Democratic-voting liberal. He mocked conservative politicians, Fox News, and, especially during the Bush years, he helped liberals make sense of an often uncertain world.
But what Stewart didn’t do was help Democrats win elections, enact legislation, or persuade swing voters. At the height of Stewart’s power, George W. Bush was elected and re-elected and the Republicans won multiple midterm elections. The “Rally to Restore Sanity” he hosted, along with Stephen Colbert, in 2010 was followed days later by a GOP blowout in that year’s elections.
This is also true of his protege/successors, from Trevor Noah, to Samantha Bee, to Jon Oliver: they’re very funny, and very good at what they do. But they are, for the most part, preaching to the converted.
I’m also not quite convinced that the presence of comedians like these actively hurts the Democrats. I’d say almost anyone who watches Stewart or Oliver or Bee was probably going to vote for Clinton no matter what, while anyone actively disgusted by them was going to support Trump. #Election 2016