Is John Oliver Underestimating Donald Trump?

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·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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On Sunday night’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver had a typically good time nipping at the heels of Donald Trump. The HBO host ridiculed Trump’s proposed economic policy, his dipping poll numbers, his use of charts at rallies. Oliver compared Trump to a drowning man and wrapped up his segment with this statement: “I can’t wait for this campaign to be over, but part of me is going to miss him when he’s gone.”

Hmmm … was Oliver referring to the end of Trump’s first term, or his second? It constantly amazes me, this election season, the way both political comedians, such as Oliver, and various network and cable news outlets consistently underestimate Trump. Just because Trump’s polls have dropped in August, why would anyone think he’s not going to rebound? This is, after all, the candidate whom everyone — and I mean everyone, from Stephen Colbert to Fox News — has at one time or another predicted could never get the nomination or, once nominated, would say something so outrageous, he’d simply have to drop out of the race.

On Sunday’s Reliable Sources — right now the TV show that does the most consistent job of presenting a clear weekly snapshot (Snapchat? Instagram?) of the state of political media — the CNN show was almost wholly devoted to what the media perceives as Trump’s meltdown. (Time magazine offered a helpful illustration of the point on his current cover.) Host Brian Stelter, while careful to avoid prognosticating himself beyond noting Trump’s unceasingly “tenuous relationship with the truth,” presided over segment after segment about Trump’s attacks on the media — excuse me, the “disgusting and corrupt media,” per a Sunday Trump tweet. The conclusion to be reached was that Trump was just digging himself into a deeper hole from which he might not emerge.

But largely unaddressed here and elsewhere on TV is that Trump’s victories in the primaries often suggest that polling and analysis based on questions of Trump outrageousness fail to predict not just his victories, but the size and scope of those victories: that Trump’s following resists conventional measurements. We’re less than 100 days to Election Day, and TV is still low-balling Trump’s chances. I’d have thought Oliver was smarter than that.

Last Week Tonight airs Sundays at 11 p.m. on HBO.