PASADENA, California — When it was first announced—right here on The Daily Beast—that Chelsea Handler and Tomi Lahren would be appearing together at this year’s Politicon event, the reactions on Twitter ranged from “hard pass” to “July 29 can’t come soon enough.”
One person who fell in the latter camp was Lahren herself, who promptly tweeted, “Let’s do this.”
Handler, on the other hand, had nothing to say. According to multiple insiders close to her Netflix show and Politicon, the comedian was not thrilled that her “conversation” with Lahren was being hyped up as a “debate.” Despite their wildly divergent views on any number of political issues, she was insistent that it would be nothing more than the type of casual sit-down she has with celebrities on her weekly talk show.
Their differing reactions demonstrate, more than anything else, who needs this more. While Handler has been thriving at Netflix under President Trump, Lahren is still searching for cultural relevance after she was fired by Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze earlier this year for the apparent sin of declaring herself “pro-choice.”
“I want to see her sweat,” one man could be overheard saying as he searched for a seat in the nearly-packed Civic Auditorium. “I want to smell her.” It remained unclear whether he was talking about Handler or Lahren, but judging from the number of red “Make America Great Again” hats spotted in the crowd and the shouts of “fake news” when CNN was mentioned, it could have gone either way.
So, when the pair finally took the stage together on Saturday, was it a fierce “debate” or a cordial “conversation?”
“This isn’t a debate. I’m interviewing her,” Handler stressed to the crowd before expressing a sincere desire to understand people like Lahren who don’t share her political views.
“How else are we going to get anywhere if we can’t talk to each other?” Lahren agreed.
They began by trying to find common ground on shared values. For example, Handler said that they both believe in “hard work.”
“We both also like 50 Cent,” Lahren replied to groans from the crowd.
“Oh snap, I never said I liked 50 Cent,” Handler said in response. “I just had sex with him.”
Three minutes in, that was just the first of many disagreements.
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Handler came off as far more relaxed than Lahren, who spoke at an absurdly fast pace about her opposition to “socialized medicine” and how “pro-America” she is. At the same time, she said she wanted to see Republicans “get their shit together” and actually solve problems.
When Handler asked Lahren if she has health insurance, she said, “Luckily, I am 24, so I am still on my parents’ plan.” That line drew loud boos from the crowd at her apparent hypocrisy, but Handler defended her honesty. In the next breath, Lahren said Obamacare is in a “death spiral.”
“It’s in a death spiral being sabotaged by the president of the United States,” Handler replied. “A decent human being would say: let’s do whatever we can to make the system that’s in place thrive.”
Lahren said that while she doesn’t agree with every tweet, she does believe the “positives outweigh the negatives” when it comes to Trump’s temperament. As long as the president is “helping” middle-class Americans, she doesn’t seem to care what he says.
“He’s the fucking president, act like it!” Handler shot back, calling Trump a “crybaby,” who needs Congress to “babysit” him into signing sanctions against Russia. “That scares the shit out of me,” she said.
Things got even more heated when Handler brought up Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military.
“For me, reinstating the ban on transgenders in the military was a very positive step,” Lahren said to boos and shouts from the crowd. “It’s not because I have anything against trans people. I don’t care what the hell you do, I don’t want to pay for it.” She went on to compare trans soldiers to people who have asthma and can’t fight, and argued that the military is “not the place for a social experiment.” The boos grew even louder when she said that “gender dysmorphia” is still a recognized medical disorder.
“These people are volunteering to serve our country and it’s not even easy for them to walk out the door,” Handler replied. As for the $5-8 million per year that the military spends on treatment, she asked, “What if Donald Trump just stayed home for two weekends? We could pay for it that way.”
By the time they were talking about oil production and “the fruits of socialism” in Venezuela, things had gone almost entirely off the rails. Handler eventually tried to pull things back into focus by making Lahren answer for President Trump’s “lies.”
“That’s a lie that I can live with,” Lahren said when Handler brought up Trump’s bizarre exaggerations about the size of his inauguration crowd. She had more trouble defending his vows to “drain the swamp” before stacking his cabinet with former Goldman Sachs executives.
“I like you,” Handler insisted at the end of the event, thanking her guest for sitting down with her. “I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t want to do that.”
In return, Lahren called Handler “brave and bold” for leaving the E! channel for Netflix. She said she would like to make a similar move. And to those who “hate” her, she said, “I’m not going anywhere, so you better get used to it.”
When Handler spoke to The Daily Beast back in May, she called out Lahren by name as the logical successor to Ann Coulter, who was supposed to appear on Chelsea last fall but canceled at the last minute. “I’m not having anybody on who’s clearly shouting an opinion just to be paid and be a celebrity,” Handler said at the time. “I don’t believe these girls believe half of the stuff that they’re saying.”
This time, Handler told her guest that she does believe that she believes what she says. Lahren certainly had plenty of opinions on Saturday. And maybe someday, someone will start paying her to express them again.