Piers Morgan v Donald Trump: Two inveterate self-publicists lead viewers on merry dance

It was billed as an unmissable clash of narcissistic egomaniacs. In the end, it was an all-too predictable slice of reality TV-style entertainment designed to propel two desperate provocateurs back into the headlines.

The widely-trailed interview between Piers Morgan and former US president, Donald Trump, promised fireworks, but it delivered a damp squib. The lasting impression was of a confected row between inveterate self-publicists as they grasped to regain relevance.

The debut episode of Mr Morgan’s TalkTV show, entitled Uncensored, threw plenty of red meat to attract audiences in the US, not least thanks to Trump’s barely disguised promise to run again in 2024.

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Whether the topic was the war in Ukraine, or North Korea, Trump repeatedly burnished his strongman fantasies, talking of how his red nuclear button was “bigger” than Kim Jong-un’s, or announcing at one point: “I’ve been the best predictor of things ever.”

He also used the platform to settle scores with familiar foes, such as Angela Merkel, and couched his praise for Boris Johnson. “I like him, I’ve always liked him,” Trump insisted. “[But] I think he’s getting a little bit liberal, a little bit green.”

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How curious it was to see this ostracised figure stalking primetime once again, with its flapping red tie, mangled grammar, and mid-sheen grimace. It felt like opening the lid of a slow cooker, only to discover a gammon joint that had been angrily caramelising for the past 15 months.

The focal point of the interview, conducted in the faded glamour of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, was the apparent breakdown of the long and inglorious bromance between the two men, which first blossomed when Trump declared Morgan as the inaugural winner of the Celebrity Apprentice.

Piers Morgan and Donald Trump

That endorsement helped rescue Morgan from the doldrums of his post-Daily Mirror career, and began a mutually dependent relationship. Morgan went on to serve as one of Trump’s giddiest cheerleaders, conducting not one, but three interviews with him during his time in office.

Each was a masterclass in obsequiousness, complete with soft-ball questions, inchoate rambling, and sycophancy aplenty. “I’ve missed you, Mr President,” Morgan simpered at the outset of their January 2018 meeting. Frost/Nixon, this was not.

Four years on, however, we were promised something different, with chatter that the two men were now at loggerheads. This was to be a plot twist to rival Bobby Ewing emerging from the shower, or perhaps, Harold Bishop returning from the dead as a Salvation Army tuba player.

Even before the interview aired, Trump appeared to condemn it, accusing Morgan of doctoring a promotional clip to give the impression he walked out.

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Watching the interview, it is impossible to say either way. The full sit-down is being dragged out over two evenings, and even then, it is being aired in parcelled segments, with Morgan annotating furiously along the way.

To Morgan’s credit, he upbraided Trump for his conduct around the Capitol attack, and disputed his increasingly feverish allegations of election fraud, but the interrogatory tone was fleeting.

A cynic might suggest any fallout was a confected row lifted lock, stock and barrel from the reality TV playbook The sad truth is it doesn’t matter.

Both men will be delighted in the knowledge their interview has attracted eyeballs and clicks the world over. Two wizened grifters know that’s all that counts.

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