Whether it’s Howard Stern or that other shock jock Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump’s deep-seated need for praise has made him a mark for those who know how to push his buttons. In the 1990s, when the hideous hotelier was at a career nadir, he was a veritable Wack Packer, dropping by the Stern show to cruelly evaluate women and engage in all sorts of locker-room banter. Trump tries to dismiss these un-Presidential comments as “entertainment,” but his vulgarity off-air is likewise well-documented. He wasn’t out of his element when with the King of All Media but squarely in it. And it wasn’t just two decades ago. Up until 2014, Trump was still playing right along, allowing himself to be flattered into conversation he must have realized on some level was best avoided.
For Stern, who’s become somewhat less of an asshole as Trump has become far more of one, the joke was always that ugly men were sitting in judgement of attractive women. The future GOP nominee, however, was seemingly not aware he was a punchline. He’s a self-described teetotaler who somehow has beer goggles for himself.
In “How Howard Stern Owned Donald Trump,” a sharp Politico Magazine piece, Virginia Heffernan writes knowingly of the dynamic between the two men. The article’s one glaring error–it initially stated Stern hasn’t revealed if he would vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton when he’s repeatedly stated he’s supporting the latter–has been corrected. An excerpt:
Today, as the Republican nominee, he may fashion himself as a boss and a master of the universe. But what comes across in old tapes of the show, resurfaced recently by BuzzFeed and other outlets, is that Trump, like many of Stern’s guests, was often the one being played. By nailing him as a buffoon and then—unkindest cut—forcing him to kiss the Howard Stern ring, Stern and his co-anchor, Robin Quivers, created a series of broadcasts that today showcase not just Trump’s misogyny but his ready submission to sharper minds.
Why would people subject themselves to Stern’s hazing? Generally, his guests in those days—if not strippers and professional opera buffa types—had to have been brought pretty low, so that a combination of psychological fragility and hunger for celebrity made them vulnerable to his mock camaraderie. That’s why it’s important to remember that Trump in the period of his appearances on the show was deeply in the red. By the time he was a regular, he had blown it all in Atlantic City, run out on his vendors, left his imperious first wife, Ivana, for the commoner Marla Maples, earned the yearlong silent treatment of his namesake son and reported a loss of nearly a billion dollars. (Even a businessman of cognitive impairment would have to sweat that one.)
His 1987 business advice memoir, The Art of the Deal, which briefly conferred valor on Trump’s scattershot career, was now a distant memory. Trump’s gilded glory belonged to the suddenly despised ’80s.
But Stern took Trump’s calls, and even had him into the studio. He gave Trump free airtime, as would cable news much later. And so Trump became dependent on the shock jock. He even admitted at times to being addicted to Stern’s show, telling Stern during one episode that he was late to at least one “really important” meeting, because he couldn’t tear himself away from the broadcast. Trump’s attention was evidently sliding off the dreary business of becoming solvent again. He was finding his calling as a carny.•