Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s weekly program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” He is a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean’s Report. He’s also the co-director of the documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” Follow him on Twitter: @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Dean Obeidallah: Sen. Al Franken and President Ronald Reagan had careers in entertainment
Considering how popular and trustworthy Jon Stewart is, why isn't he running for president?
On Tuesday we learned that President Obama had “secretly” summoned “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart to the White House twice in recent years. Social media was abuzz with the question of whether Stewart was actually advising Obama on certain policy issues. The comments of Obama’s former senior adviser, David Axelrod that Stewart had “forceful arguments” on issues that “deserved to be answered” added to the speculation.
This got me thinking. One: Why wouldn’t Obama consult with Stewart, a man who is truly the Walter Cronkite (with more laughs) of our generation? And two: Would Stewart consider running for president?
Wait, before you dismiss this idea quickly, keep in mind that Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, famously got his start as a comedic performer on “Saturday Night Live.” And there’s of course Ronald Reagan, who had a career as a B-level actor before becoming president.
If Stewart became president, his press conferences and presidential addresses would be the most entertaining ever. Instead of mimicking past presidents who offered us solemn, direct to camera speeches, Stewart would add flashy graphics and jokes that help him make his point. I bet some of President Stewart’s speeches would go viral.
Stewart would be the left’s answer to Donald Trump. While Trump offers horrific comments about Mexicans and POWs, Stewart would be making us smarter while crushing The Donald with comedic jibes. Plus a Trump-Stewart presidential debate would be such a huge draw that it could be the first presidential debate ever on pay-per-view.
The more I seriously contemplated a Stewart candidacy and reflected upon his body of work, the more I realized that he truly would make a great president. There’s no doubt Stewart understands the nuances of the issues facing our nation; after all, he has been discussing them nightly for over 16 years.
Stewart has raised issues of the day in a way that educated and entertained us, from George W. Bush’s failed Iraq War policies to the hypocrisy of politicians to the media’s tendency toward sensationalism.
Stewart influenced our debates and discourses. He made an important impact on a funding bill for first responders who had suffered chronic illness while working at ground zero. In 2010, Senate Republicans blocked the vote to help these men and women in need. Stewart responded by using his show as a platform to raise awareness in hopes of spurring action by Congress.
Within three days of Stewart’s episode featuring first responders, the funding measure passed. As PBS noted at the time, the funding for the first responders bill was “credited in large part to Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart.”
So, would Stewart actually have a chance if he jumped in the presidential race now?
Former Obama adviser Eric Lesser told Politico this week about Stewart, “I’d be hard-pressed to think of a person who spoke with the same amount of authority to that big of a group of people.”
Stewart also would have many things going for him if he ran. He has very high name recognition and is viewed as trustworthy. Not only did a 2009 Time online poll name him the “most trusted newscaster in America,” but a recent poll also named Stewart the top political pundit in America, far outdistancing people like Rush Limbaugh. And 48% of the respondents to this recent poll stated they admired Stewart, with over 50% noting they agreed with Stewart on at least some issues. (Only 12% never agreed with Stewart.)
This is in sharp contrast to the numbers we see for Hillary Clinton. A recent CNN poll found that 57% of Americans don’t find her trustworthy and her unfavorable ratings outweighed her favorable numbers. A more recent Quinnipiac Poll in three key swing states found Clinton’s favorability ratings to be even worse.
However, Stewart does have certain practical obstacles, namely, a lack of fundraising and no ground operation in the early primary states. (There’s a Facebook page “Jon Stewart for President” that fans created in 2010, but that only has 16,000 likes.
All that would quickly change if Stewart even hinted at running. Stewart’s legions of fans would likely jump into action, especially his younger ones, who are the very type needed to knock on doors and make phone calls for a candidate. And I bet it would energize those on the left who are not all that excited about Clinton.
There’s one more thing. Stewart may have a secret weapon: President Obama. First, they are obviously friends. Earlier this week Obama playfully boasted that he could win a third term as president if allowed by law to pursue it. Well, if Obama went all in for Stewart, it would be a way for Obama to test if he is as truly popular as he believes. And if Stewart were to win, Obama would clearly play an instrumental role in Stewart’s policy-making.
I know it’s a long shot. But Trump’s meteoric rise from a 71% unfavorable rating among Republicans just a few week before he announced his presidential run to now leading the pack tells us that many Americans don’t want the same old traditional politicians. They want someone outside the Beltway who they believe can get things done. Stewart could be the one. Plus he’s hilarious. What more could America want in 2016?