Chuck Todd has interviewed Donald Trump many times, and he’s noticed something somewhat disquieting about the unquiet president-elect.
The man doesn’t laugh — not in a normal, spontaneous, regular-human kind of way.
“[It] drives me crazy. Do you know what? I’ve never seen him laugh,” the “Meet the Press” host told me during an interview for POLITICO’s “Off Message” podcast earlier this month. “I challenge somebody to find him laughing, and that person has yet to find an example, in my opinion. He’ll smile, but he smiles appropriately. Watch him at the Al Smith dinner [the roast in New York City in October] … He doesn’t really laugh. He looks for others to laugh. It is just weird.”
And there’s one other thing that Todd thinks is odd: After several of his Sunday appearances as a candidate, Trump would lean back in his chair and request that the control room replay his appearance on a monitor — sans sound.
“Then there’s the amount of time he spends after the interview is over, with the sound off. He wants to see what it all looked like. He will watch the whole thing on mute,” Todd told me, sitting in his cluttered office in NBC’s nondescript, low-slung Washington headquarters on Nebraska Avenue.
“He’s a very visual guy,” says Todd. “He thinks this way, and look, it’s an important insight in just understanding him. The visual stuff is very real beyond just himself.” It’s a source of his political effectiveness, an understanding of the blunt force of imagery that Hillary Clinton, crushed by her briefing books, could never understand.
Todd, the 44-year-old steward of a venerable broadcast journalism franchise most memorably occupied by the affable and acute Tim Russert, predicted — like everyone else, including me — that Trump was toast heading into Election Day, and remains puzzled and fascinated by the man who has upended the country’s presumed political order. He’s the former editor of the pioneering insider tip sheet The Hotline, and an unapologetic politics geek in a way that rivals, and sometimes surpasses, Sunday competitors John Dickerson and George Stephanopoulos — so his appreciation of Trump’s upset win is enhanced by his precinct-level knowledge of turnout and regional electoral history, especially in his home state of Florida. Then there’s the element of class: Todd grew up in a working-class Miami household, and intuitively understands the new president’s appeal from the perspective of a kid whose family sweated the rent in a way that the other two men on the legacy broadcast Sunday programs simply can’t.