Brexit, the House sit-in and the Supreme Court’s immigration decision are on the agenda at Politicon, but the Comic-Con for politics taking place in Pasadena, Calif., is undoubtedly dominated by the whole issue of Donald Trump.
At panel after panel, supporters talked of his appeal, and detractors talked of his danger. Pundits weighed whether he has a real chance of winning vs. Hillary Clinton. One group debated whether he was a psychopath.
Ann Coulter, a Trump supporter, defended him against conservative criticism that he has a long history of backing Democrats and that he hardly fits the background of many in the religious right.
“I’m an evangelical pro-lifer and I don’t need my president speaking in tongues,” she said.
The discussions taking place here may sound like something cable news features hour after hour, but that is the point. Politicon was launched last year at the Los Angeles Convention Center, on the idea that there is an avid base of political junkies willing to pay for the weekend of panels, political comedy, keynote speeches, exhibits and art displays. There were: Attendance was 5,000 at last October’s kickoff, according to convention center officials.
This year, the event at the Pasadena Convention Center was drawing long lines for a number of the marquee panels, and standing room only at events like a debate between Coulter and Van Jones. Tickets are priced at $30 for a general admission day pass and $50 for the weekend. A spokeswoman for the event said that they drew 4,000 on Saturday, and expected to surpass that on Sunday.
Jones and Coulter actually agreed on some issues, like the negative effects of trade agreements. But, Jones said, “then you put in the anti-immigrant poop and then I can’t eat it because I don’t agree about the anti-immigrant” rhetoric.
One of the most creative parts of the event was a gallery of politically themed artwork, including an inflatable Trump, a Mona Lisa with Clinton’s face and a Trump University vending machine spewing out diplomas. Not all of it was anti-Trump, though. One giant painting featured the presumptive Republican nominee with imagery of the American flag and bald eagle. An anti-Hillary artwork was of a car air freshener with her image on it and the phrase, “reeks of scandal.”
At a panel on Clinton’s campaign, Mike Murphy, the political consultant who ran a pro-Jeb Bush SuperPAC during the primaries, was hardly praiseworthy of Clinton — “she’s got a bad set of ethical cataracts” — but he is hardly for Trump.
Murphy compared Clinton’s campaign to Dasani bottled water.
“Now we all kind of admit that it is pretty crappy bottled water, but we sure drink a lot of it,” he said. “Why? It is distributed by the almighty Coca Cola company so you cannot escape the stuff. Every convenience store, every hotel minibar, every airport, everywhere you go, you bump into Dasani bottled water. It is hard to beat distribution. And in this election, she has the distribution, because Trump Water will kill you.”
One of the topics on the panel, which featured Wendy Davis, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Joanne Bamberger and moderator Sally Kohn, was whether there is a double standard when it comes to media treatment of Clinton.
Paul Begala, the strategist made famous during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential run, cited a recent Joan Shorenstein Center study showing that 84% of Clinton’s press was negative.
“Only 43% of Donald Trump’s press was negative, and Trump has made a few mistakes, I don’t know if you know this,” he quipped.
“There is a double standard,” Begala said. “I don’t know honestly if it is driven by the fact that she’s a woman. The fact that she is a Clinton. The fact that she has been famous for a quarter century.”
Murphy, however, said that “politics is a game where perception is reality.” He noted the continued concerns over Clinton’s use of a private email server. “I think the process by which they handled it has created more trouble for them than the legitimate criticism of how security was handled at the State Department when she was in charge,” he said.
A panel on Trump’s campaign featured not just Coulter but two showbiz supporters, John Ratzenberger and Robert Davi.
Davi recalled a story about New York City’s effort to rebuild a Central Park ice rink that was beset with delays until Trump offered to step in. After finding that the project was a faulty design, he got it done.
“That kind of thinking, which keep hearing him say, counter thinking, that’s what we need,” Davi said.
Another panelist, Eugene Robinson, said, “I think that sounds like the highest and best use of Donald Trump. He could keep doing that. He could come to Washington. He could fix our Metro.”
Trump’s supporters challenged the notion that he was dividing the country. In fact, they say it is the opposite.
“What Donald Trump has done is he has made the unspoken, spoken,” Davi said. “There is part of this country that has been healed over, and the scab is so sensitive that no one has been able to heal it from the inside out. Donald Trump has been healing that.”
He added, “Yes, a lot of the whites feel that they have been forgotten. They are left out. They haven’t been attended to. And it is not just the white. It is also the blacks, the Hispanics, the Asians. People who feel ‘America First.’ That is the wound that has been healed or opened up by Donald Trump, that has to be healed.”
That wasn’t the sentiment at another panel, which posed the question, “Is Trump a Psychopath?”
Jon Ronson, author of the book “The Psychopath Test,” moderated the panel that didn’t necessarily answer the question but sure tried to suggest it.
They did focus on the slightly less loaded term of narcissism. Ben Michaelis, a clinical psychologist, said narcissistic personality disorder was someone who is grandiose, who had fantasies of unlimited power, belief in specialness, someone who requires excessive admiration and has a lack of empathy, among other characteristics. He defended evaluating Trump. “Being able to understand who we may be voting into office is really important,” he said.
Trump supporters were in the audience, including one who said to them, “I bet you wish you sitting up there had Donald Trump’s bank account.”
Another asked one of the panelists, Lizz Winstead, how she, as co-founder of the now-defunct Air America, could accuse a multi-billion dollar businessman of “delusions of grandeur.” “Who has delusions of grandeur, and who is the psychopath?”
“Oh, that’s really smart,” Winstead responded, noting that Air America launched personalities like Rachel Maddow, Al Franken and Marc Maron.
“I feel really good about my failures, thank you very much,” she added.
(Pictured: Anthony Atamanuik at the Trump Vs. Bernie Panel during Politicon 2016)