Michael Moore for President? Don’t rule it out. At the end of the firebrand filmmaker’s latest provocation, Michael Moore in TrumpLand, Moore vows that he will run for the nation’s highest office in 2020 should his preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, win the presidency, but fail to live up to promises she’s made to the more liberal wing of the Democratic party.
In the film — a recording of a live show he mounted at Wilmington, Ohio’s Murphy Theater a mere two weeks ago, on Oct. 6 and 7 — his possible presidential bid is played somewhat for comedy. He rattles off a list of to-do items on his platform, including mandating a universal charge cord for all devices, along with free HBO subscriptions and bountiful amounts of weed. But speaking with journalists after a Wednesday morning screening of TrumpLand in New York, Moore made it clear that he fully intends to hold Clinton accountable should she win as many of the polls are predicting. “I’m not kidding around — she needs to not go back on her word…. We’ll start out supporting her, but if it goes the other way, we’ll do that, too.”
Pressed to specify if that means he’s just “kidding around” about a 2020 presidential run — either for real or as the premise for his next movie — Moore declined to issue a blanket denial. “I do believe that if I follow through on my promise for a [universal charger], plus the free HBO and two joints per weekend, I could be elected,” he joked. In other words, let the running mate speculation begin! Who’s ready to vote for a Michael Moore-Bill Maher ticket four years from now?
On second thought, maybe not those two. Because one of the most effective arguments that TrumpLand makes is that the era of the all white-guy ticket may be over. “We had a good run,” Moore remarks in the movie to the white men sitting in the audience in a staunchly conservative corner of Ohio. Later, he goes on to connect Clinton’s candidacy directly to the arc of the women’s rights movement from the mid-20th century to now. It’s easily the most moving and well-reasoned section of the film and makes a visible impact on the audience, several of whom can be glimpsed tearing up as Moore makes the case for why it’s well past time for a female Commander-in-Chief.
To no one’s surprise, Moore is less kind to Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump, in both the film and in conversation after the New York screening. At one point in TrumpLand, he pauses his monologue to present a fake news report covering President Trump’s inauguration, a day that commences with him bombing foreign countries and concludes with the network being yanked off the air in favor of a Trump-sponsored station overseen by former Fox News chief Roger Ailes. The audience — which appears to be largely composed of Clinton supporters, with a healthy dose of Trump voters mixed in — greets the video with amused smiles. (After the screening, Moore explained that the infamous “hot mic” conversation between Trump and Billy Bush is missing from the movie because the news broke hours before filming. Either way, Moore says he showed restraint when it came to the real-estate mogul: “I didn’t want to waste my time with Trump jokes. What would be the point? He writes his own satire.”)
Shot and edited in 12 days, TrumpLand can’t mask its rushed origins; that’s a nice way of saying that there’s a wide gulf between this concert film and a professional piece like the recent Kevin Hart: What Now? Despite Moore’s claim that he’s been tinkering with the script for this performance for roughly a year, there are still moments where he struggles to fill the relatively brief 70-minute runtime. A digression into a critique of the American health-care system feels like material he had lying around from Sicko, and his interactions with the audience inevitably circle back to “Trump supporters say this/Clinton supporters say this” talking points.
Only when TrumpLand gets personal — as it does when Moore talks about an encounter he had with Hillary Clinton in the mid-‘90s — does it really feel like Moore might succeed in his stated goal of inspiring enthusiasm among a potentially unmotivated electorate. To that end, the release plan for TrumpLand is to supplement a limited theatrical release with a VOD run that Moore hopes will be available within 24 to 48 hours.
“No one at the Clinton campaign has seen this, and I can’t imagine they would actually support it. I wanted to reach people who are thinking of voting for a third party or not voting at all.” Moore emphasized after the screening. “[Maybe] we’re preaching to the choir, but sometimes the choir needs a song to sing…. Whenever you relax your shoulders, thinking Trump is sinking in the polls, you’re helping to possibly elect him.”