Barring a Lazarus-grade miracle, Anthony Weiner's hopes of being New York City's next mayor will be quashed on Tuesday. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, released Monday, Weiner gets 6 percent of the likely Democratic primary vote, far behind frontrunner Bill de Blasio's 39 percent. In a Marist poll, also released Monday, Weiner steps up to 7 percent of likely Democratic voters. You can stick a fork in him: He's done.
Still, the media loves him, and Weiner's getting at least as much coverage as the three viable candidates. On Monday night, Weiner gave his final pre-vote interview with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, who had just one question for the faltering mayoral candidate: "What's wrong with you?"
What follows is simply spellbinding television. BuzzFeed calls the interview "too amazing for words," while Mediaite's Josh Feldman sighs that it's an "unbelievable trainwreck of an interview" — and they're both right. O'Donnell spends most of the interview trying to psychoanalyze Weiner, trying to coax out of him some explanation of the "demons" that drive his need to spend his life in public office. "Dude, I don't need your psychiatric questions," Weiner finally interjects. "Do an interview here!"
The underlying question, which could have been interesting under different circumstances — say, after the primary election — seems to be: Why run when you know there are disqualifying skeletons in your closet that are almost certain to come out? In O'Donnell's hands, it sounds like, as Weiner puts it, a one-sided "harangue with a split-screen."
Not everybody sees it that way. Here's conservative radio pundit Dana Loesch:
I loathe Larry O'Donnell, but for the first time ever, his superfluous, wannabe-Shakespearean delivery was apropos re: Weiner interview.
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) September 10, 2013
An exasperated Weiner gets some punches in here and there, including chiding O'Donnell with the artlessly phrased: "Chillax, buddy, just dial it back." But as Weiner sits through this beating, says Mediaite's Feldman, something kind of amazing happens: "For the first time since the first picture of his penis emerged on the internet... you may end up feeling bad for Anthony Weiner."
Journalist Rebecca Traister had a similar thought:
Very few people can make Anthony Weiner look sympathetic. So far: 1) that guy who yelled at him for marrying an Arab 2) Lawrence O'Donnell
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) September 10, 2013
By the time O'Donnell asks Weiner if he'll stick around for a web-only extended interview, Weiner's snarky response — "Online? Get harangued online? Nobody watches the show — who do you think's online?" — seems totally appropriate. And when O'Donnell asks again, Weiner's answer seems to spell an end to the fun: "Yeah, that's gonna happen! Thank you! Good night, Lawrence!"
But Weiner apparently agreed. And the online part is almost as good as the segment that aired on MSNBC:
Weiner finally gets to talk, and he does a pretty good job defending himself — and turning the tables on O'Donnell. He even makes a somewhat convincing rationale for his mayoral campaign. O'Donnell keeps asking Weiner what he'll do when he loses — a premise Weiner rejects. But then Weiner actually hits on a plausible post-loss plan: "Maybe I'll come on this show and kick your ass every night, like I'm doing tonight."
At one point in the first part of the interview, Weiner tells O'Donnell that this relentless psychoanalysis "can't be good TV for anybody." He's wrong, "but surely he knows that," says Adam Martin at New York. "It seems pretty clear at this point the guy's going to be no stranger to the television studio after this election."
That's why you've been more likely to see Weiner on TV than likely winner de Blasio, or could-be-mayors Bill Thompson and Christine Quinn. Weiner may now be "more of a public curiosity than a serious candidate," says CNN's Peter Hamby. But he's "the best pure political talent in a Democratic field bereft of charisma and the kind of outsized personalities to which New York voters have become accustomed."