Before Donald Trump insulted his way into the national spotlight, Ben Shapiro was making a name for himself as a prolific writer and a bracing conservative commentator.
But as Trump’s celebrity has surged, so has Shapiro’s: though the yarmulke-wearing Angeleno offends many of the same racial sensibilities as the tycoon-turned-presidential contender, he is among the top leaders of the rightwing Never Trump movement.
His stardom was on display June 26 at Politicon, a political geek-fest in Pasadena.
In the back rows of panels, people whispered his name before sneakily leaving the room. Outside a ballroom where he was set to debate progressive media personality Sally Kohn on the origins of Trump’s rise, hundreds lined up to assure a seat.
“Any topic – Ben makes it interesting,” said a kipah-clad attorney from Valley Village waiting in line for the debate who asked not to be named by the Jewish Journal.
Others held copies of his books in the hopes of seeing them signed.
It was clear based on the volume of applause from the moment Kohn and Shapiro were introduced that the audience leaned in Shapiro’s favor.
Shapiro summed up his opposition to Trump by offering the analogy of the American government as a car racing towards a cliff.
Barack Obama is pushing down on the gas pedal and Hillary Clinton would press down even harder, he said. But by crippling the Republican Party’s chances to win elections, Trump threatens to “rip out the reverse gear.”
That said, “There’s an 80 percent likelihood he will be a better president than the worst person in America, Hillary Clinton,” Shaprio surmised.
Naturally, Kohn had a different analysis of the Trump phenomenon.
“Donald Trump’s biggest argument is that we get to prosperity through bigotry,” she said.
Trump, she said, has his “origins in the Republican Party, which has been building that kind of resentment and otherizing in our country for far too long.”
For the frequent boos that met her statements, Kohn had a self-assured response: “Boo all the way until November,” she said. “See how that turns out for you.”