It has not been the best of weeks for Donald Trump. No he didn't make any gaffes, he didn't insult minorities or patronize any women (well, no more than usual). He hasn't actually stumbled in any noticeable way. For Trump, who is giddy over Ben Carson’s exaggeration of being offered a “scholarship” to West Point (read lie) and who has thrived on controversy, nothing is worse than no news.
In a week in which the headlines have been stolen by Ben Carson's views on Egyptology or Chris Christie's viral testimonial, Trump, for the first time since the summer, seems to be fading into the background.
Hosting SNL was supposed to fix all of that. Trump, the man who will say anything, would appear on live television, on a show known for political irreverence. But now that the dust has settled, the final product was greeted with a shrug, and more than a little disappointment. We were promised entertainment, and what we were given was bland and antiseptic.
Some have accused SNL of deliberately sabotaging Trump, stifling him into irrelevance. Others have said Trump has sabotaged himself. Allegedly rattled by the "values voters" rallying around Carson, Trump feared some of the more risqué material pitched to him by the show, leaving only the antiseptic skits that underwhelmed the nation.
It's questionable however that this was ever going to be a winning move for Trump. SNL has proven valuable in humanizing stiff politicians before (it certainly helped Hillary), but stiffness has never been Trump's problem. Lack of comedy value has certainly never been The Donald's problem. If Trump is to succeed, he needs to be taken seriously by the young people SNL attracts.
While it has been on the air for over forty years, the current iteration of SNL is still the blueprint that Tina Fey established during her reign as head writer. No longer the coke-fueled anarchy factory of the Belushi days, SNL is now a sleek and efficient comedy machine, populated by trained professional performers -- and well drilled as any Broadway show.
They know the trick to dealing with a limited guest is never leave him holding the bag. Even Trump's monologue (And the guy should be comfortable doing monologues by now) was flanked by both current cast member Taran Killam and long-time impressionist Daryl Hammond as dueling Trumps. Like a beginning skydiver, Trump was always paired with a trained professional to keep him out of danger.
Even that was not enough, as Larry David created the most memorable moment of the evening.
On hand to revive his wonderful Bernie Sanders impression in the opening segment, David interrupted Trump's speech from the sidelines, diffusing the DeportRacism.com offer to shout, "Trump is a racist!" from the audience for $5,000. David, doubling down on the racial humor, stated he was doing it for the money.
From there we were given a painful sketch about the awesomeness/ridiculousness of a Trump presidency, a mildly amusing bit of Trump mocking the much maligned dancing in Drake's Hotline Bling video, and then several skits where Donald seemed to just wander in and shrug. The only real shots at Trump where from the safety of the Weekend Update desk.
Because he took the safe approach, you can't really call this a loss for Trump. But in a week where he needed a win, a draw is just as bad as a loss.