Piers Morgan was trending heavily in the Twittersphere today. Nothing so new about that, perhaps. But when the subject was his defence of Donald Trump, the inevitable thought was that here was the UK master of self-promotion hyping one of the few men who can actually, er, trump Piers in the attention-attracting game.
The occasion was BBC Today programme’s slightly curious choice of Piers as a guest commentator in the wake of America’s ‘Super Tuesday’ primary spectacular that again cemented Trump's frontrunner status… a position that is terrifying the Republican Party establishment as much as it is Democrats, liberals, women and minorities.
Particularly controversial was Morgan’s depiction of Trump as "basically a right wing Richard Branson". Or, to quote Piers fully: "I read Trump’s going to to be the new Hitler, and I find that an absolutely facile way of looking at a guy who is basically a right wing Richard Branson."
The former CNN chatshow host and now presenter of ITV’s Good Morning Britain also called Trump a "warm man" who is "one of the world’s best deal makers who would be ideally placed to negotiate with President Putin if elected president". Morgan continued: "American politics right now really does need someone who is good at doing deals, Barack Obama has been paralysed from gun control onwards in the Senate in his inability to actually get anything done."
To be fair to Morgan, his principled stand on gun control was partly responsible for the canning of his own US show, but the prospect of Trump outgunning Obama on the gun control issue looks on a par with my chance of cycling to the moon backwards!
In fact, not so long ago, Trump sided with right-wing Republicans in opposing Obama’s efforts to introduce even limited new gun control regulation, Piers. Maybe you missed that, Piers?
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that Morgan has often boasted of his friendship with Trump, who he got to know when he was a winning contestant on the billionaire businessman’s US version of 'Celebrity Apprentice'. Trump was also a guest on Morgan’s now-cancelled CNN show and Morgan has recently written about how he regularly receives phone calls from his old pal, the aspiring president. "He rang me about a month ago and we had a long chat about the election," crowed Morgan, ever the self-publicist, on Today.
Morgan has a reputation for staying loyal to his friends and, although he’s been vocally critical of Trump’s controversial plan to ban Muslims from the US and build a giant wall between America and Mexico, he’s refrained from taking pot shots at many of Trump's other outrageous outbursts. You also sense that what’s in play here is a meeting of two giant egos and quite possibly Morgan’s high hopes of securing some one-on-one airtime with Trump if he secures the Republican ticket; and again at the White House, should his pal swap that for the decidedly more ostentatious surrounds of Trump Tower.
Let me declare an interest here. I love America, having spent a decade there as a UK newspaper bureau chief, and I met Donald Trump a few times, particularly when he was courting British royalty to help promote his business empire, most notably Trump Tower, Manhattan’s homage to flash and cash. When Morgan told Today that pal Donald has "the ability to play people like a concert conductor" he was certainly playing along with Trump’s perception of himself.
Flamboyant, yes. Bombastic, yes. Brilliant, yes too, but very much in the spirit of the American huckster. But could I imagine him as president of the US, leader of the western world, the man with his finger over the nuclear trigger? Never in my wildest dreams (sorry, nightmares). I couldn’t then and I can’t now.
But somehow – as an editor who has worked in opposition to Piers Morgan – I’m totally unsurprised by the mutual admiration society shared between him and Trump.
I’m also the father of two voting-age US citizen children who find Trump’s pledges to dismantle Obamacare and his attitude to women just two reasons why they’re horrified by the prospect of him even winning the Republican candidacy, let alone occupying the White House.
And they’re certainly less than convinced by Morgan’s Today programme portrayal/defence of Trump’s campaign tactics. Morgan had said: "I see Trump being more outrageous in some of the things he’s saying and doing now, but I think he’s just doing that to grab media attention, and I think the reality of a Trump presidency if it came to it, would be a lot more moderate. I would treat almost everything he says in this campaign cycle with a lot of scepticism and, like all campaigners in every election, he’s saying a lot of stuff purely designed to get votes."
Sorry, Piers, but your pal Donald is pushing the envelope further than any other US presidential campaign I can recall. And, like my kids, I’d rather not take a chance on Trump’s rhetoric not being matched by his actions should – God forbid – he actually win the White House come November.
Like my kids again, Piers, I found the brilliant British comedian John Oliver, who hosts his popular weekly HBO show Last Week Tonight, far more convincing with his latest 22-minute assault on the Trump candidacy.
"Litigious serial liar" and "America’s back mole" were just two of his descriptions. Along with his reminders of Trump’s business failures, bankruptcies, policy flip-flops and his initial refusal to disavow KKK grand wizard David Duke.
But best of all was his reminder that the name Trump was changed from the original ‘Drumpf’. Opined Oliver, "Trump is the sound produced when a mouthy servant is slapped across the face with a wad of thousand dollar bills", while he suggested "Drumpf resembles the sound produced when a morbidly obese pigeon flies into the window of a foreclosed Old Navy".
To back it up, Oliver launched a campaign with the hashtag #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain, plus a new anti-Trump website, DonaldJDrumpf.com which sells slogan hats and offers a ‘Drumpfinator’ Google chrome extension that replaces the name Trump with Drumpf in web browsers.
As the UK twitter tending sparked by Morgan's Today programme appearance rumbled on, the programme’s editor Jamie Angus tweeted @piersmorgan interview on @realDonaldTrump is an item conceived solely to send my Dad into an apocalyptic rage!
— Jamie Angus (@grvlx001) 2 March 2016
Could I suggest that next time he invites Morgan on to sing Trump's praises, he invites John Oliver on to debate him.
Now that really would be great radio. And your dad would definitely tune in, Jamie. Not to mention millions of us who share John Oliver’s take on the Trump Factor rather than Piers’.
Paul Connew is a media commentator, broadcaster and former editor of the Sunday Mirror and deputy editor of the Daily Mirror. He was also a former US Bureau Chief for the Mirror Group