Critic's Picks: Top 10 Televised Political Moments of 2016

6:25 AM 12/21/2016

by Frank Scheck

From "Lock her up!" to "When they go low…," bruising debates to an unfortunate bout of hair tousling, THR critic Frank Scheck ranks the ten most jaw-dropping TV moments from the 2016 election season.

2016 Campaign Split - H 2016

Politically speaking, 2016 will not go down in history as our finest year. Thanks largely to Donald Trump’s incendiary, lowest-common-denominator campaign, the presidential race sank into tawdriness, vulgarity and ugly appeals to prejudice and hatred. The result was a bitterly polarized country that seems increasingly unable to bridge its many divides.

As we look forward to things getting worse under Trump’s administration, here is a look back at some of the more memorable (if, sadly, mostly for the wrong reasons) televised political moments of the past year.

  1. 10

    Trump Trots Out Pence on '60 Minutes'

    It isn’t often you get to see people selling their souls on national television. But such was the case when Donald Trump and Mike Pence gave their first joint interview to the CBS news magazine program. As Lesley Stahl looked on in disbelief, Pence showered Trump with praise, gushing that the businessman candidate — many of whose positions he was in strong disagreement with — embodied “broad-shouldered American strength.” A swelled-up Trump basked in the admiration as Pence increasingly took on the glazed look of a battered spouse.

  2. 9

    Van Jones Takes on Trump Surrogates

    Whether engaging in impromptu, heated debates with Kayleigh McEnany and Jeffrey Lord about the race factor in Trump’s campaign — Lord described the Ku Klux Klan as “a military, terrorist arm of the Democratic party” — or describing Trump’s win as a “whitelash,” the CNN political commentator emerged as a thoughtful, impassioned, substantive voice of reason during a political season dominated by sensationalism and spin.

  3. 8

    Jimmy Fallon Tousles Trump's Hair

    While late-night viewers could only fantasize about how Jon Stewart and David Letterman would have handled the most bizarre presidential election in the nation’s history, they were forced to settle for the likes of The Tonight Show host. So determined to be genial and non-threatening that his interview with Trump was an exercise in utter blandness, Fallon made a fool of himself and his agreeable, if clearly uncomfortable, guest by vigorously roughing up Trump’s orange coiffure. Even the resolutely non-politically controversial Johnny Carson was probably spinning in his grave.

  4. 7

    Stephen Colbert's Live Election Night Special

    It was supposed to be a celebratory comedy show. Instead, it turned into a wake as the shell-shocked host realized that Trump was actually going to win. As the results poured in, the depressed Colbert joked about being on suicide watch and listened to journalist John Halperin tell him, “Outside of the Civil War, World War II, and including 9/11, this may be the most cataclysmic event the country's ever seen.” By the show’s end, Colbert was forced to give a pep talk to his audience before leading them on a sing-along of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”

  5. 6

    Melania Channels Michelle

    The highlight of the GOP convention’s opening night was supposed to be future First Lady Melania’s speech. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned, as the internet immediately buzzed with the revelation that her address had, to put it mildly, borrowed from the one given by Michelle Obama at the 2008 convention. It wasn’t a shining moment for Melania, who would later attract widespread derision for her interview with Anderson Cooper in which she blamed everyone but her husband for his comments on the Access Hollywood tape.

  6. 5

    The Trump/Clinton Debates

    The trio of debates were like a riveting reality-TV miniseries in three scorching installments. Hillary brought policy fluency, a cool head and sharp tongue against an opponent who literally stalked her onstage — and who, sounding like a banana republic dictator, threatened her with jail time if he became president. Trump further debased himself when he bragged about not paying federal income taxes — “That’s what makes me smart!” — and later theorized that the hacking of Democratic e-mails might have been perpetrated by “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” The consensus was that Hillary trounced the Donald in all three showings. But as we all now know, substance and preparation mattered little in this election.

  7. 4

    The GOP Debates

    It's hard to pick a single debate; they were all entertaining and appalling. One highlight (or is it lowlight?) was Chris Christie’s brutal takedown of Marco Rubio, who was reduced to robotically repeating the same sound bite about Barack Obama over and over, as Christie — in full prosecutorial mode — cackled about the Florida senator’s “memorized, 25-second speech.” Another was the moment that surely provided the most national humiliation: Donald Trump’s bragging, “Look at these hands!” Then adding, to emphasize the unspoken message about the size of his genitalia, “I guarantee you, there’s no problem.” Ladies and gentlemen, our president-elect.

  8. 3

    Michelle Obama's New Hampshire Campaign Address

    Less than a week after the release of the infamous, leaked Access Hollywood tape, the First Lady stood at the podium and, never once mentioning him by name, bitterly decried Trump’s misogynistic language about women and bragging of sexual assault. Her voice cracking with emotion, Mrs. Obama admitted that what she had heard “has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.” Combine that with her convention speech, in which she declared, “When they go low, we go high,” and the conclusion is clear: She was the most inspiring and electrifying speaker of the entire campaign season.

  9. 2

    Hillary's Concession Speech

    In marked contrast to Trump’s having ominously told the nation, “I will keep you in suspense” about accepting the election results, Clinton delivered a moving concession speech the day after her surprising loss. Commiserating with supporters that “we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling,” she offered a special message of encouragement to “little girls,” advising them to “never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

  10. 1

    The Republican National Convention

    From the moment Chris Christie turned the arena crowd into a lynch mob shouting “Lock her up!” to Donald Trump’s apocalyptic acceptance speech in which he grandiosely declared “I alone can fix it!,” the proceedings unfolded less like a major political party’s convention than a modern-day Nuremberg rally. The fact that Trump went on to win makes the entire event, in retrospect, even more terrifying.