Our Presidential Candidates on Talk Shows: Who Does Better?

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Recently, our three major presidential candidates have made high-profile appearances on TV talk shows, with varying results. Does an ability to share easy jokes and gentle ribbing with our nation’s nighttime sleep-inducers and afternoon time-wasters correlate to success in the polls? Let’s take a look at some clips and see who’s best at the gabfests.

First up, Hillary Clinton appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night:

Entry Music: Theme from Rocky, not bad
Best attempt at self-mockery: “I was worried I wasn’t going to make it; I was pinned down by sniper fire.” Funny, but almost too funny, and a little creepy: is a Lewinsky joke next?
Worst try at comedy: “Every night someone calls at 3am… [to Jay] you gotta stop calling me.” Hmm, guess her writers are still on strike.
General demeanor: Amiable, with some good applause lines, but a little desperate-seeming. The extended policy speeches can get a little boring. And for God’s sake, have a lozenge!

Next, it’s John McCain on Letterman on Tuesday, trading some wacky comedy one-liners like they’re on a roast or something:

Entry Theme: Is that Spanish? Is Paul having an immigration-themed laugh?
Best attempt at self-mockery: None, really, although letting Dave have the line about how McCain’s got “wiry hair growing out of new places” is something I guess.
Best line: While all the jokes are cute enough, it’s the little details that make McCain a real comedian, like the deadpan “You think that stuff’s pretty funny dontcha,” when he comes out, and a quick impression of Dave’s hands-in-pockets posture.
Worst moment: The too-wide, pleased-with-himself grin after the “mostly kept to himself” joke.
General demeanor: Pretty swell, but a minute-long writer-fed appearance isn’t too tough to pull off.

And finally, it’s Barack Obama on the View last week:

Entry Music: Generic View walk-on theme; can’t we get some Motown or something?
Best attempt at self-mockery: The oldie but goodie, “I’m skinny but I’m tough.”
Cutest moment: Fanning himself after Barbara Walters tells him he’s “sexy.”
Worst moment: His stuttering open to another labored Wright explanation; just write an opening line on your hand or something.
General demeanor: Friendly enough, but despite his charisma, he’s not at his best when answering tough questions.

So, who wins? Clinton matched her tone exactly to Leno’s middle-of-the-road flip-flop-wearing audience, and her alleged sense of humor came across for once. Obama’s charming, but he’s hobbled by the Wright stuff here, and isn’t on his game. McCain’s brief appearance is the most likable, and while it’s probably unfair to judge it against two 20-minute sit-downs, there’s something to be said for knowing your limitations. It’s kind of symbolic: as Hillary and Barack try to out-talk each other, McCain can swing by with a quick chuckle, and everybody goes, “I like that guy.” So while some may argue the continued Democratic battle is good for the party, in TV talk-show-land, it might not be.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate