On his HBO show Friday night, Bill Maher invited on Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro for the first ever sit-down between the two ideologically opposed political commentators. Rather than yet another incoherent shouting match between political opponents, as the American public witnesses all too often, the two men conducted exactly the kind of civil debate so many are desperate to see. But that doesn't mean there weren't some fireworks, particularly on the topic of civil discourse, which Shapiro argued was easily as much a problem on the left as Maher said it was on the right.
"I always say this to conservatives that come on our show: I'm a little jealous of their guts because they have more guts than the liberals," said Maher when he first introduced Shapiro (video below). "Liberals don't go on conservative shows — they don't even come on this show sometimes. So I appreciate it because you know the crowd is not with you."
"I got that impression, yeah," joked Shapiro, which got some laughs from the audience. Maher responded by establishing the overarching theme of the night, saying, "Let's be civil."
"We seem to be living in a time of utter tribalism," said Maher, "and I think you and I have a few things in common, besides we are both uninvited at Berkeley." Both of them, he said, tend to be "coy" about their affiliations with the two political parties because of their frequent disappointment with the parties, but now, said Maher, he's fully on the side of the Democrats. "I think, right now, I'm a Democrat," said Maher to hearty applause and cheers from his audience.
"There's only two teams," said Maher. "Since all of the Republicans are now backing Trump, except for the ones who are leaving, but he totally owns that party now. If you're a conservative, aren't you really 'Team Trump'?"
"Well, it depends on what," said Shapiro. "What I call myself is 'Sometimes Trump' — people say there's 'Never Trump,' 'Always Trump' — 'Sometimes Trump,' meaning that when he does something that I like, I cheer; when he does something that I hate, which happens, then I boo — and I'm booing as loudly as you are when he does something that is really bad. Listen, you're very upset about the Supreme Court nominee. I'm pleased about the Supreme Court nominee as a conservative. He's doing a lot of things that I like in terms of policy. Now, that doesn't mean I'm cheering his character because I believe that it is very difficult to cheer Donald Trump's character, nor do I think it's appropriate."
When Maher said he no longer even knows what the Republicans' political beliefs are now, citing anti-free trade policies, driving up the deficit, and support of Russia as examples of recent reversals, Shapiro replied, "Obviously, it's been very frustrating to me to watch so many Republicans do exactly that. I've been incredibly critical of Republicans who have become fans of Vladimir Putin or have suddenly become fans of tariffs. I think all of that is idiocy. But, again, with regard to judges, with regard to taxes, with regard to Middle Eastern policy — particularly Iran and Israel — I'm much more of a fan of President Trump than I certainly would have been of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama."
Shapiro underscored that he didn't vote for Trump in 2016 because of his concerns about whether he'd actually govern as conservative and his impact on the social fabric, which prompted Maher to ask if he'd ever vote for a Democrat under any circumstances. That led to their discussion of civil discourse.
Here's the exchange:
SHAPIRO: I would say some circumstance, but the Democratic Party would have to stop being insane. Meaning that they would actually have to approach something like moderation in terms of policy and also present a face that doesn't look like people shouting down people at gas stations, or entering restaurants and trying to throw them out.
MAHER: If you’re talking about the civility thing, why don’t we start with the Republicans stop saying "Lock Her Up"? [applause] You don't think that's a worse abridgment of civility? ... And it's not just "Lock Her Up," he talks about locking [James] Comey up, he talks about locking journalists up. There's a guy who said "lock Tim Kaine up"... Shouldn't the civility argument start there before we care about who gets their entree?
SHAPIRO: But it isn't just about who gets their entree. It's about who gets harassed in public. By the way, I'm not going to make excuses for President Trump's statements. ... I think all of it is important. We can chew gum and walk at the same time, can't we? Can't we say incivility is bad across the board? ... When you're a Democrat, you're only opposed to incivility when it's Donald Trump, but suddenly Maxine Waters is "Auntie Maxine."
MAHER: Because, Ben, you can’t walk into a room and see an elephant and a mouse and not know which one is bigger.
SHAPIRO: But it's not an elephant and a mouse, it's two elephants. I needed 600 officers to protect me at Berkeley! Yes, it is an elephant and an elephant. Yes, it's an elephant and an elephant when in 2012 Joe Biden says [of] Mitt Romney that "He's gonna put y'all back in chains" about black people. This stuff preexisted Donald Trump. ... To pretend incivility started with Donald Trump-
MAHER: No, not incivility, I'm talking about the level to which it's at.
SHAPIRO: I agree with you.
When Maher began to hammer the Russia theme, Shapiro noted that Trump's "been a lot harder on Putin than Obama was." Maher pushed back, but Shapiro laid out the facts: "Not in terms of his rhetoric, in terms of his actions. He's armed the people of Ukraine with deadly weaponry which Obama would not do. 200 Russian soldiers were killed in Syria by Russian forces under Donald Trump, not under Barack Obama. It was Barack Obama who was saying to Dmitry Medvedev that he wanted to provide him with 'flexibility' in 2012. Crimea was annexed under Barack Obama."
Maher said emphatically that he's convinced that Trump did collude with Putin, to which Shapiro replied that he watched the campaign too closely to believe that Donald Trump "could collude with his own left foot." If the evidence should come out, he said, he'd be happy to go for the indictments. "Criminal activity is criminal activity, but I'm not going to attribute to Trump something he didn't do when he's too ignorant to have done it," said Shapiro, adding later, "Is he a doofus or is he an evil genius, you've got to pick one."
Maher said you don't have to pick one, citing Hitler, who he noted was both "crazy" and a "genius."
The host closed out the interview by asking Shapiro if Trump firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller would be grounds for possible impeachment. "If he throws it in the trash or quashes the Mueller investigation, then, yes, impeachment should be on the table," said Shapiro.
Watch the full interview below via HBO (warning: some language):