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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Donald Trump Watch: The harmonic convergence between conservatives and Chris Rock

April 28, 2011 | 12:38 pm

Donald_trump When people who don't agree on anything else in life -- like conservative political commentator Charles Krauthammer and comedian Chris Rock, not to mention, well, me -- come to the same conclusion that you're a big fat bag of hot air, then you know you're really a crackpot.

Of course, I'm talking about Donald Trump, who during the last few months has somehow managed to shapeshift his identity from a blowhard TV show host to a plausible Republican presidential candidate. Trump has done such a brilliant job of mesmerizing the media with his preposterous Obama birther claims that I'm surprised that Mel Gibson hasn't flown Trump out to Los Angeles to help him figure out how to transform him from a disgraced hate-spewing crank back into a beloved movie star.

Trump is so good at boosting ratings that he has inspired just as much debate on left-leaning MSNBC as on right-leaning Fox News, which is quite a trick, because the two news organizations are such bitter rivals that they probably couldn't agree on where to play a charity softball game.

Some people just loathe Trump, such as MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell, who has repeatedly branded Trump a liar while also heaping abuse on his sister network, saying Trump is "NBC's biggest embarrassment in the history of NBC."

But the most fascinating reaction has come from Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. A man of crystal-clear likes and dislikes, O'Reilly appears to view Trump with the very unO'Reilly-like attitude of ambivalence. O'Reilly recently spread a Trump interview out over four straight nights and seems to have a long cozy history with the developer. Yet even O'Reilly seems to realize that by giving legitimacy to Trump the GOP is playing with fire.

But instead of attacking Trump directly, O'Reilly has started giving a platform to his biggest critics, the latest being Krauthammer, a regular Fox News contributor who made news in wonky conservative circles by branding Trump "the Al Sharpton of the Republican Party." Trump responded by phoning Krauthammer for a private chat and, even more tellingly, calling O'Reilly as well, complaining that it was unfair to compare him to Sharpton because Trump is a proven businessman, not a rabble-rouser. 

Krauthammer went on O'Reilly's show Tuesday night to explain the Sharpton comparison and offer a devastating critique of Trump in the process. As he put it:

"He is like Al Sharpton in the sense that he is slick, smooth, spouts provocative nonsense -- operative word 'nonsense' -- which will distract any presidential debate. And when we spoke on the phone -- this is stuff I said to him on the phone. I'm not just saying it here. I said, as an example, the birther conspiracy nonsense, and he says to me, 'Oh, the media. Well, that's because the media has been asking me about that.' And I said to him and here I can quote myself directly. I said, 'Mr. Trump, you are not a media victim. You brought it up.' And he says, 'Oh, no, no, no. My real issues are OPEC, Iraq, oil, the Chinese, the economy.' I said, 'All right, let's talk about that. Let's talk about your idea of seizing Libyan oil, seizing Iraq oil and demanding $1.2 trillion worth of oil. That is a nutty idea. That's what makes you unserious.' Look, Bill, that kind of talk is the stuff you expect from a guy at a bar at closing time with slurred speech. That's not a serious presidential candidate."

The debate between Krauthammer and O'Reilly just kept getting better. O'Reilly picked up on Krauthammer's "guy at a bar" reference, tacitly defending Trump's nutty ideas by saying that "there are a lot of guys in bars who would support him," which prompted Krauthammer to retort: "I don't have as low an opinion of American people as do you."

Clearly on the defensive, O'Reilly claimed that Trump could have the same populist appeal with right-wing GOP primary voters as Pat Buchanan did back when he ran for the presidency, adding the delicious O'Reilly kicker, "You know I'm right about that." Krauthammer instantly shot back: "No, you're wrong because the analogy is wrong. Buchanan was a serious guy who had been in politics since the mid-1960s, had worked in the Nixon administration, had worked in the Reagan administration, was familiar and fluent in just about every policy. He was not in any way somebody coming out of the blue and spouting this kind of nonsense. On this I'm with Chris Rock, who said, 'I won't vote for Donald Trump. He'll find a younger, prettier country and leave us for that.' "

All I can say is that when guys like Charles Krauthammer, who won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary and has spent years writing sophisticated essays about America's role in a post-9/11 world, start approvingly quoting a black activist comedian like Chris Rock on Donald Trump, then you know the Republican Party is heading into Alice in Wonderland territory. Thanks to Trump, I'm having such a bromance right now with Krauthammer that I'm considering inviting him to a screening of "Thor" next week. I think we could find even more things to agree on.

-- Patrick Goldstein  

Photo: Donald Trump on a visit this week to Portsmouth, N.H. Credit: Joel Page / Reuters