Comedian tells Salon about his clash with Affleck, his “Flip a District” effort — and a recent date with Rand Paul
Ben Affleck and Bill Maher on “Real Time with Bill Maher” (Credit: HBO)
If you’re just catching up on the weekend’s politics news, there’s one video that you need to see: the contentious and intense moment during Friday night’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” during which the host got into something of a yelling match with guest Ben Affleck over the essential nature of Islam. Maher’s criticism of Islam is nothing new, of course. But seeing A-lister and well-known liberal Ben Affleck directly accuse him of being “gross and racist” showed this disagreement between Maher and other prominent liberals was taking on new levels of acrimony.
Meanwhile, Maher is also running what he calls his “Flip a District” campaign, which now heads to Minnesota, where the comedian will be hosting a non-televised and sold-out panel discussion on Tuesday night as part of his effort to unseat Rep. John Kline. Salon spoke with Maher on Saturday about this effort as well as the other recent headlines he’s made. Our conversation is below, and has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
First off, I wanted to ask you about how you feel the “Flip a District” campaign has been going overall, as well as what you hope to accomplish with the panel event in Minnesota on Tuesday?
Oh, just more of what we’ve been doing, which is trying to get attention to this race — and I feel like it’s picking up steam [like] crazy. It’s amazing, the stuff we hear from the district and how many people are excited about us coming and doing this. I saw an article in [a local] paper the other day that said they think [the district] is flippable.
You know, we have a month, and I said on the show last night that the most surprising element of the whole things to us — and, very sincerely, I’m saying this came as a shock — is that this guy, Kline, isn’t even making any appearances!
We thought all this month we’d be trailing him, getting some footage, seeing what he had to say, using those words against him — there are no words! His whole campaign strategy is to hide and to not even remind people there’s an election. He doesn’t want people to know there’s an election. That should be seen as something horribly insulting to voters.
So I hope that the local media will pick up the ball from there and try to find him. [Laughs] Is he in the witness protection program?
To your point, I actually spoke earlier this year with Wesley Reed, who is running against Rep. Blake Farenthold, who is also on your target list —
Oh, Blake! Yes, we love Blake. We couldn’t do Blake, he was unflippable, but we loved him.
I tried to talk to him, too, and like you were saying, there are a lot of candidates who seemingly are just trying to run out the clock and lie low until the election’s over.
He’s doing the same strategy?
Yeah, they said yes and then I guess they figured out what Salon was because they never got back to me.
It’s such a cynical strategy to depend on the apathy of the voters and how uninformed they are.
Our reporter, Alexandra Pelosi, was in [Rep. Kline’s] district a couple of weeks ago, and she said the most amazing thing she found was that so many people: a) Don’t know there’s an election coming; and b) Don’t know who their representative is.
The only names they really knew were [Rep. Michele] Bachmann and Al Franken — and sometimes they were for both of them just because they had name recognition, which is pretty insane because obviously they’re diametrically opposed, politically.
Do you think of “Flip a District” as something you want to do again in 2016?
I don’t know. I mean, I’m just concentrated on this one. Let’s see what happens here. Maybe this guy will win by 30 points [laughs].
Y’know, he’s kind of making it a race where he’s running against me. That’s what he wants to do. To this day, he has not refuted one thing we’ve said about him. It’s all about — and, again, he doesn’t talk at all, but he speaks through his fundraising emails — it’s all about running against, y’know, “the Hollywood elite,” blah, blah, blah.
But I’m not on the ballot and it’s not supposed to be [about] me, and he doesn’t defend his record because it’s not a very easy record to defend.
I know this campaign is more about a negative endorsement than it is about cheerleading for Mike Obermueller, the Democratic candidate. But have you experienced any people from any of the Democratic campaigns reaching out and asking you to step back because they’re worried their opponent is fundraising off of making you the villain?
No, no. We have no communication with the Democratic campaign — I didn’t even know who [the Democratic candidate] was until I read it in one of Kline’s fundraisers. This is strictly a negative campaign [laughs]. It’s strictly a campaign to oust someone, and my position has always been that I don’t care who the opposition is; he literally couldn’t be worse.
So, look, you mentioned last night’s show. I’m not going to ask you to debate Islam with me; I’m sure you have more than enough people trying to do that with you right now —
Yeah, let’s leave that for a while. I’ve said enough about that.
But I want to ask you how you felt the Ben Affleck/Sam Harris segment went. Did you feel frustrated as it was happening?