A left-leaning comedian and a far-right Republican candidate in his late 70s, Ron Paul and Jon Stewart may not be the most natural political alliance. But by all appearances the two have struck up an extremely friendly relationship in recent months, trading kind words in the press throughout the campaign.
Now with Paul’s campaign descending into an ugly feeding frenzy over a series of racist newsletters he published in the 1980s and 90s, it will be interesting to see how things progress next month. Stewart’s show has been on break for the holidays, but will return in January and the story seems unlikely to go away so long as Paul threatens to make some serious noise in Iowa.
In August, Stewart drew national attention for a Daily Show segment in which he argued that the media was unfairly dismissing Paul’s campaign based on his performance.
“You’re not forgetting…say an ideologically consistent 12-term Congressman who came within less than 200 votes of wining the Iowa straw poll?” he asked. “Isn’t anyone going to give that guy a little love?”
“How can anything be more dramatic than what Jon Stewart did?” Paul said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in September. “He really made our case for how things are handled.”
Paul later sat down with Stewart for an interview that same month, the first few minutes of which were mostly devoted to Stewart mocking Paul’s lack of media coverage before segueing into a respectful debate of the role of government in regulating the free market.
While Stewart’s Paul love was ostensibly about a lack of recognition for his horse race position, he’s also gone out of his way to praise the candidate’s character and defend him from some charges of extremism.
“You may disagree with him, but at least you can respect that the guy has a belief system he’s engaged in and will defend,” he told Rolling Stone.
Earlier this month, Stewart defended Paul on-air after he didn’t receive an invite to a candidates forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, because the group’s executive director said their organization “rejects his misguided and extreme views.” Speculating about what made Paul appear extremist, Stewart offered a clip of him saying he opposed foreign aid to all countries (including Israel). But as observers have noted, Paul’s newsletters contained inflammatory passages referencing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. He’s also been, if nothing else, highly critical of Israel’s relationship with America in particular in public statements.
“Why do we have this automatic commitment that we’re going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel?”he said in one debate.
On Paul’s end, he’s cited Stewart as recently as this week in a CNN interview that he ended up walking out on over questions related to his newsletter.
“Well, I mean, why don’t you go look at Jon Stewart’s reports when he defends me on the bias and stuff in media,” he said after being asked how he viewed the press. “I mean, he mocked the media for the way they’ve treated me during the campaign and reported, but I don’t get upset about that. That’s just the way you guys work.”
Given that Stewart’s chief praise of Paul has been his consistency, Paul may be setting himself for trouble with his shifting and incomplete explanation for how exactly he ran an incendiary publication for years under his name — sometimes even written from the first person — without ever realizing what was in it. It’s worth noting that Stewart was at his most brutal during the Anthony Weiner scandal in mocking the Congressman, despite being an old acquaintance of the lawmaker.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.