Media Matters' Boehlert Explains The Problem With CNN's Paid Trump Surrogates: Their Job Is To Push Conspiracy Theories, Not Enrich The Debate

Boehlert: Trump Surrogates Are “Spinning For A Candidate Who Doesn't Exist”

From the October 17 edition of Pacifica's Rising Up with Sonali:

Video file

SONALI KOLHATKAR (HOST): It's a very powerfully put together video, which people can find at One of the things that I thought was really important is to point out that these are people who are being paid to defend Trump, right? So, they're basically correspondents that have been brought on because they support Trump, not just a general news correspondent. That means, tomorrow, if they started actually critiquing Trump, they might be dropped by CNN because CNN is looking for people, and one person even admits on the video that they have trouble finding people to defend Trump, so they're paying people to defend Trump. That just seems to wrong. 

ERIC BOEHLERT: Yeah, it's very interesting. A lot of these cable channels -- look, for all three cable channels, news channels, news from September 1st to election, basically the only story is the campaign, right? They are filling hundreds and hundreds of hours, and the dirty little secret is, they can't find a lot of people to go on and talk about Trump and defend Trump. Now, we'll admit, Romney ran, when John McCain ran, you had half of Congress contacting the cable news channels saying, “my boss wants to be on, my boss wants to be on.” There was a glut, there's always a glut of people to defend either the Democratic nominee or the Republican nominee. This year, the cable channels -- the cupboard is absolutely bare, which is why we're seeing basically B- and C-level people, people I've never even heard of, I've been following politics for 20 years, I turn on the TV, I see people, I don't even know who they are, but they've suddenly been elevated to Trump surrogate, because you just can't find anyone to do this. 

And so, your point is a good one, they have to pay these people to come on. And here's what really becomes a big problem, and it's because of the Trump groping story, right? So if you're paying these Trump surrogates to like, defend building a wall, or not releasing your tax returns and things like that. Their arguments don't make a lot of sense, but OK, that's what the Trump campaign's going to say. None of it's logical, he doesn't have an immigration plan. But, when we got into this sort of sexual predator topic which has dominated the campaign, you suddenly had these paid surrogates going on TV, knowing virtually nothing about the accusers, because we have accusations made, two hours later, surrogates are on CNN denying it. They don't even know the facts. How could they possibly? It was only two hours ago. So, that's become a real problem, in that these paid surrogates have become sort of the point persons for kind of a smear campaign against the accusers, when they clearly don't know the history, they don't know Trump's story, they haven't listened to the accuser. And, to me, that's where this problem really became inflamed, and people were kind of looking at this like, “there's something wrong here.”

KOLHATKAR: Right, and so aside from Corey Lewandowski, the other three that are shown in the film whose voices people heard and saw, Kayleigh McEnany, Scottie Nell Hughes, and Jeffrey Lord. And it was pretty disgusting, actually, to see the two women in particular defend Trump's sexism, which is always really great for Trump to be able to point out and say, “women love me,” which is something I think he's literally said. Eric, isn't the other danger that the audience, somebody who might not be aware of Media Matters' work, is watching this and thinking, “if they agree with Trump,” they see validation for Trump's views, and perhaps their own views, in these well-dressed, nicely made-up women and men, who give the sense of legitimacy to Trump's sort of -- kind of very base views. Isn't that also a very big problem?

BOEHLERT: I think it is, and I think it has been. And when you see people on television pretending that Donald Trump has a tax plan, pretending that he has a foreign policy, pretending that he's done what most traditional Republican candidates have done in terms of coming up with an agenda or a platform, when we know he hasn't done any of those things, and he doesn't have a policy. So, you're right. I think they do sort of create this sense of legitimacy and elevate him to the same level of the Democratic nominee, who has literally 40 policy statements on her website. Trump probably has six. So yeah, for months I think, they did help Trump and sort of elevate him, and they pretended like he was a serious candidate. But, again, I go back to the groping and I go back to the sexual predator. I think, your point there, if you're a just casual observer, a casual viewer and you're watching these people, I think it's way easier to see through what's going on. And I think it's -- what the Trump surrogates are saying, trying to bash these women, saying, “Trump's never done this.” Trying to explain why fifteen women would come forward in one week when they're all making up stories. I think even a casual CNN viewer would look at that and say, “this does not add up, and you really need to better your argument.” 

KOLHATKAR: And, as Carlos Maza points out in the video, this isn't the fault of the people who are being paid, it's really CNN. This is CNN's feet that need to be held to the fire, right?

BOEHLERT: Well, again, and here's the overall problem, and it's a great point that Carlos made in the video. These surrogates are not really there to forward the debate, to enrich the debate. They're really there to muck up any kind of factual conversation that we typically have during a campaign. If we want to talk about policy, if want to talk what was discussed at the debates and things like that. And really, their job seems to be to interrupt, to throw out these wild conspiracy theories, and really just to bog everything down, and I think that was Carlos' main point. When people turn on CNN and they want to see a good, live, back and forth debate, we're not saying don't have Trump people on, but let's have a debate. Let's talk about the issues. Let's have smart people face off.

KOLHATKAR: Let's have a debate that's not filtered by money, basically. Like, someone's actually paid to defend Trump, it's ridiculous. 

BOEHLERT: Right, and you're not getting that interesting debate, you're getting his surrogates just rushing in for everything. Damage control and just bogging everything down. Talking over everybody. The debate, as a word, it just comes to a grinding halt. And here's another key point, these surrogates are defending a candidate who doesn't really exist. And what I mean by that is, Trump was saying, “if I win the election, Hillary's going to go to jail.” And [Kellyanne] Conway was asked about that, and she says, “well, you're taking it too literally. He was just being funny, or he was speaking figuratively.” Well, in the days after that, Trump has doubled and tripled down and saying he absolutely thinks she should be in jail. Another issue, he's saying -- a couple days ago Trump was saying, “well, the election's rigged.” The surrogates on CNN said, “oh, well, he meant the media's rigged. He would never say the election is rigged.” Well, he tweeted this week, “the elections are rigged, there's massive voter fraud, the Republican Party needs to wake up.”


The problem is, these surrogates, I don't think, have any idea what Trump is actually doing or thinking, because he doesn't share his views with anyone. So they kind of go on and spin and minimalize his comments, but they're spinning for a candidate who doesn't exist.


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