Opinion: This is the difference Jon Stewart could make in the 2024 election

Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program, “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

It only took eight years, but apparently Jon Stewart has finally decided to answer the plea from my May 2016 CNN article titled, “We need Jon Stewart back now!”

Dean Obeidallah - CNN
Dean Obeidallah - CNN

At the time, my point was that we desperately needed Stewart back in “The Daily Show” host chair because he was the comedic antidote to then-candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. And after Trump won that election, many — including myself — believed that if only Stewart had not abdicated his late-night show in August 2015, Trump might well have been defeated.

That is why the news that Stewart is returning to “The Daily Show” in February as an executive producer and a host — even if just one day a week in that latter role — is more than the “Moment of Zen” he treated us to on his show for 16 years. It’s truly a moment of celebration.

On a serious note, I don’t actually believe my 2016 article had anything to do with Stewart returning. And no one — not even the award-winning host himself — can save us from Trump or any other societal problem facing our nation today.

I am confident, however, that Stewart’s weekly hosting will bring us much-needed laughs as he points out the absurdity of the words and actions of people in power — including Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene or even President Joe Biden. Stewart — while clearly leaning left on many political issues — had no qualms about directing his comedic barbs at Democrats while hosting “The Daily Show.” And, of course, Stewart also became an insightful critic of the corporate media — much to the chagrin of some cable news outlets. (I’m especially looking at you, Fox News, but who could forget his famous comments on CNN’s Crossfire in 2004, battling with then co-host Tucker Carlson?)

But … and you knew a but was coming … Stewart’s history of effectively ridiculing and taunting Trump is what so many of us will be tuning in for. And if history is any guide, Stewart will get under Trump’s pathetically thin skin, surely causing him to lash out on social media.

That’s how it went before. Just one example came shortly before Trump announced his 2016 run, when Stewart discussed the other GOP presidential candidates. When he got to Trump, Stewart joked, “They’re all very colorful characters, but for me there can only be one F**kface von Clownstick.” Stewart then did an impression of Trump, mercilessly mocking him for saying he had a secret, “foolproof” plan to defeat ISIS.

How did Trump respond? With a series of angry tweets calling Stewart “a wiseguy with no talent,” “the most overrated joke on television” who delivered “dumb clown humor” and more. For a comedian, having a person like Trump respond angrily on social media to your jokes is better than a standing ovation.

Now, however, there’s an added concern that Stewart didn’t have to deal with back in 2015 when he was last hosting “The Daily Show.” If Trump were to win in 2024, he may go beyond simply slamming Stewart on social media and employ the apparatus of government to silence him.

As a reminder, in 2019 as president, Trump threatened “Saturday Night Live” for parodying him by publicly demanding the Federal Communications Commission investigate the iconic comedy show. Trump even bemoaned that there was no form of “retribution” against the show for ridiculing him.

Given Trump has made “retribution” a central theme of his 2024 campaign, even vowing to be a dictator if he wins — but only for “one day” — Stewart has potentially more to lose. But as we’ve seen with his activism, Stewart has not backed down before to a fight with people in power. For example, in 2019 he confronted members of Congress to their faces, slamming them for not helping 9/11 first responders. And in 2022, he again took members of Congress to task for not passing legislation to help veterans who contracted illnesses after being exposed to burn pits during their active service. In both cases, Stewart’s work helped pass the legislation at issue.

As I wrote in 2016 when pleading with Stewart to return to the airwaves, “In what will likely be a truly ugly and stress inducing general election contest,” Stewart would offer “us a much needed comedic cathartic release.” Those words are even more true today given that Trump — or as Stewart called him, “F**kface von Clownstick” — is the likely 2024 GOP presidential nominee. Given what is coming between now and November, we have all earned Stewart back, and at least a few Moments of Zen!

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