- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2016

Donald Trump’s foray into presidential politics has been a godsend for late-night TV comics, who have mocked the billionaire businessman three times more often than any other candidate on either side of the aisle in recent months.

But unlike former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was mocked relentlessly after she was chosen as Sen. John McCain’s 2008 running mate, former Vice President Dan Quayle and others whose political careers dwindled after they became staples of late-night monologues, Mr. Trump seems impervious, with his poll numbers rising in the face of the comedic onslaught.

“He’s colorful. You never know what he’s going to say next. He’s a walking news machine, and the jokes follow the news,” said Robert Lichter, founder and president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “He’s so unusual from the top of his hair to the tips of his toes. He is a gift to late-night comedians. He’s got such an unusual personality. I can’t imagine a better target for comedians.”

From Oct. 1 through the end of January, Mr. Trump was the subject of at least 655 late-night jokes or skits, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. The next-closest candidate was Democrat Hillary Clinton, who was the butt of at least 216 jokes.

The tally includes NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” CBS’ “The Late Show” and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” It doesn’t count “Saturday Night Live” sketches, which often roast Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton and other candidates.

Poking fun at Mr. Trump has become so commonplace on late-night TV that Mr. Lichter and other analysts say there is only one other recent comparable example — Mrs. Palin, is still a target. At least 15 jokes were made about Mrs. Palin in January, Mr. Lichter said.

As he barrels toward an expected win in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary Saturday, Mr. Trump was hit by jokes on numerous shows Wednesday night.

“Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon opened his monologue by suggesting that Mr. Trump was impersonating Pope Francis, who held Mass along the U.S.-Mexico border and reportedly drew more than 200,000 people into Mexico to attend.

“The pope pulled off his mask and said, ‘I got you, now you’re back in Mexico. Adios, amigos,’” Mr. Fallon said, impersonating Mr. Trump and mocking his tough stance on illegal immigration.

Mr. Fallon and fellow late-night hosts Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Trevor Noah and others also take frequent aim at candidates in both parties.

Mr. Colbert on Wednesday night said New Hampshire voters reacted to Carly Fiorina’s exit from the Republican primary race by bidding her “control, alt, goodbye,” mocking Mrs. Fiorina’s previous stint as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno returned for a cameo appearance Wednesday night and mocked Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Bernard Sanders and Mrs. Clinton, among others.

“Hillary says she has been tested. Well, I hope so. You never know what Bill might bring home,” Mr. Leno said.

Despite those and other examples, data show no other candidate has endured anything close to the verbal drubbing of Mr. Trump. The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

From October through the end of January, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was the subject of at least 193 jokes. Mr. Cruz was the target of 69.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who exited the race after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary last week — was hit by 65 jokes.

Mr. Sanders was a relatively infrequent target this fall; he was the subject of 97 jokes from October through December.

In January alone, however, he was targeted at least 67 times. Analysts say Mr. Sanders’ political successes — including his surge in national polls and his blowout victory over Mrs. Clinton in New Hampshire — make him a much better punch line.

“You don’t want to joke about anonymous people. Sanders has become very well known,” said Rich Noyes, research director at the Media Research Center.

The reverse also appears to be true. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was the butt of 142 late-night jokes from October through December.

That figure fell to just 15 jokes in January, coinciding with Mr. Carson’s precipitous drop in the polls.

This fall, Mr. Carson was neck and neck with Mr. Trump in Iowa. He ultimately finished a distant fourth in the Feb. 1 caucuses.

As for Mr. Trump, analysts say, it’s surprising that he has been able to continue surging in the polls and avoid being seen as a joke. Before this campaign, Mr. Noyes said, he firmly believed constant TV mockery could affect the public’s perception of a candidate.

“Before Trump, I would’ve said of course. But Donald Trump has proven the opposite. He’s embracing the caricature,” he said.

Indeed, Mr. Trump — along with other candidates such as Mr. Sanders — have joined the act. Both men have appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in recent months and poked fun at themselves.

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