Donald Trump, in case you haven’t noticed, loves to say ridiculous things. Saying ridiculous things is the secret to his media success. He got famous, after all, by humiliating and firing people on national television.
Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign has been no different. Earlier this week, he decided to attack Carly Fiorina’s personal appearance during an interview with Rolling Stone:
When the anchor throws to Carly Fiorina for her reaction to Trump’s momentum, Trump’s expression sours in schoolboy disgust as the camera bores in on Fiorina. “Look at that face!” he cries. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” The laughter grows halting and faint behind him. “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
It’s not unusual for Trump to attack the looks of women he wishes to demean. When he wants to put a man in his place, he focuses on the man’s bank account. In 2011, he insulted Mitt Romney, of all people, by noting that Mitt Romney was basically a poor person compared to Trump.
“I mean my net worth is many, many, many times Mitt Romney,” Trump said.
By many indications, Donald Trump appears to believe a man’s worth as a human being is based solely on his monetary wealth, while a woman’s worth is based on her looks. After all, this is a man who complimented his own daughter by saying he would probably date her if she weren’t his daughter, on account of her “very nice figure.”
This kind of behavior, and these kind of statements, are not the fruits of a healthy outlook on life. While many people regularly mock Trump for his outlandishness, I actually feel bad for him. I pity the desperate need for external affirmation through fame and wealth. As I wrote when Trump first announced his 2016 candidacy, I don’t think Donald Trump needs a campaign; what he needs is a hug. I legitimately feel bad for the guy.
Which brings us to Jerry Seinfeld’s advice for how to handle someone like Trump.
During a reddit AMA in 2014, comedian Jerry Seinfeld was asked how he handled hecklers who disrupted his sets. His answer provides a perfect blueprint on how Republican strategists, pundits, and presidential candidates should handle Donald Trump, who is basically a C-list comedy club heckler masquerading as a White House contender.
Here’s what Jerry Seinfeld said:
Very early on in my career, I hit upon this idea of being the Heckle Therapist. So that when people would say something nasty, I would immediately become very sympathetic to them and try to help them with their problem and try to work out what was upsetting them, and try to be very understanding with their anger. It opened up this whole fun avenue for me as a comedian, and no one had ever seen that before. Some of my comedian friends used to call me – what did they say? – that I would counsel the heckler instead of fighting them. Instead of fighting them, I would say “You seem so upset, and I know that’s not what you wanted to have happen tonight. Let’s talk about your problem” and the audience would find it funny and it would really discombobulate the heckler too, because I wouldn’t go against them, I would take their side.
Republican skeptics of Trump shouldn’t become outraged every time Trump says something absurd or ridiculous. They should be sympathetic. Republican candidates on the debate stage with Trump shouldn’t attack him, they should feel empathy for him.
Don’t ridicule Trump for the kind of behavior that would never be tolerated from toddlers, let alone fully grown adults. Instead, engage him and ask him why he thinks a rich, powerful, famous man like himself feels the need to belittle the looks of a cancer survivor.
As Seinfeld noted, the key to disarming an angry, insecure heckler who’s desperate for attention isn’t a quick, witty response. It’s pity.