I like to joke that during the campaign, Donald Trump single-handedly boosted my television program ratings among billionaires. He seems to have never missed my Saturday CNN show, even though he never accepted one of my many invitations to personally appear.
As best I can reconstruct, I must have got his goat by interviewing McKay Coppins from BuzzFeed on my SiriusXM radio program after Coppins wrote "36 Hours on the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump." The 2014 story recapped 25 years of Trump engaging in charade by threatening to run for president. The story was well-written and very funny.
Thereafter, I too continued to poke fun at the idea of Trump running for president, both on radio and on television. And he took notice.
One month after the launch of my CNN program, Trump weighed in with his review:
"I can't believe that @CNN would waste time and money with @smerconish - he has got nothing going. Jeff Zucker must be losing his touch!"
Then again, on May 5, 2014, Trump took a shot at me while doing a telephone interview on Fox & Friends: "You have some guy named Smerconish, who I've never even heard of . . . he goes on the air and says 'Trump is defending [LA Clippers owner Donald] Sterling.' "
"Reporters are really dishonest, especially political reporters," he said, before commenting on the need to reinstitute libel laws.
But here's the funny thing. Despite his view that CNN was wasting time and money on me, or that I am dishonest (all the while pronouncing my name impeccably), Trump proved himself to be a very loyal viewer of my program. On several occasions he tweeted about my segments, although he was usually careful not to specifically reference that it was my program. Here are a few:
On Jan. 19: "Pat Buchanan gave a fantastic interview this morning on @CNN - way to go Pat, way ahead of your time!"
Feb. 13: "A very big thank you to Bill Donohue, head of The Catholic League, for the wonderful interview on @CNN and article in Newsmax! Great insight."
The only time I had any direct interaction with him came on Feb. 25, at a CNN debate at the University of Houston. My plane was late and I arrived in the hall just as the debate was to begin. Serendipitously, my path backstage crossed with the gaggle of candidates as they were getting ready to walk onstage. Just a few feet from me were Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio - and Donald Trump. When our eyes met, he waved - but with his fingers not a full hand. Then he motioned for me to come nearer. We shook hands. And he said, dripping with sarcasm, "L-O-O-O-O-V-E your show."
On April 2, Kasich was a guest of mine. Later that day, Trump addressed a rally in Racine, Wis., and told the crowd:
"I watched Kasich today on CNN on an abortion question. I said what a terrible answer that was. That was a terrible answer. He didn't want to talk about it."
Again, my show.
Plus there were several instances where he reacted to specific things I said as a CNN primary/caucus election night commentator. But as he would reference specific things I had said, there was no doubt as to what provoked him.
On April 23, I did a segment on the convoluted nature of Pennsylvania's Republican nomination process, in which delegates are not bound to follow the electorate. Trump took note, tweeting:
"Pennsylvania: Cast your vote for Trump for POTUS & ALSO vote for the TRUMP DELEGATES in your congressional district!"
Then finally, he admitted he watches.
It happened on April 23 during a rally in Waterbury, Conn., when he said: "I watched on television today . . . on Smerconish . . . who doesn't necessarily treat me good."
There were several more instances. Such as when he reacted to specific comments from a focus group I assembled on May 3, or how he called a Pennsylvania congressman because of something the man said on my program, or how he quoted something Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson told me, or when he tweeted a reaction to my interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd:
"Wacky @NYTimesDowd, who hardly knows me, makes up things that I never said for her boring interviews and column. A neurotic dope!"
And then a minute later:
"Crazy Maureen Dowd, the wacky columnist for the failing @nytimes, pretends she knows me well - wrong!"
It's amazing to me that, while running for president, he had so much time to watch TV. I'm pleased he was such a fan of my program and I'm counting on him to boost my demographics from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.