Donald Trump loves a good fight. The president’s first nine months in office have been filled with near-daily scraps with members of his cabinet and Congress, NFL players, judges, CNN, NBC, Saturday Night Live, the Obamacare health plan, late night hosts, Sen. “Liddle” Bob Corker, Snoop Dogg, the leader of North Korea and the mayor of hurricane-devastated San Juan, Puerto Rico, to name just a small sampling.
But you know who he’s yet to engage in battle? Eminem. More than a week after Marshall Mathers unleashed a world of hurt on the tweeter-in-chief during a vicious BET Hip-Hop Awards freestyle called “The Storm,” there hasn’t been a single peep from the typically easy-to-incite president.
Em’s rap took Trump to task for on everything from his reaction to the deadly white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, attacks on NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem, failure to act on gun control in the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting and repeated actions against legal immigrants.
“Trump, when it comes to giving a shit you’re as stingy as I am/ Except when it comes to having the balls to go against me, you hide ’em,” Em rapped, directly daring Trump to react. “‘Cause you don’t got the fucking nuts like an empty asylum/ Racism’s the only thing he’s fantastic for.”
A source close to the rapper who requested anonymity put it simply: “I think they attract a similar audience and being forced to choose between Em and Trump won’t benefit Trump. Em has an infinite bullhorn with diehard followers and eventually could make a mockery of him in a way that would be hard to rebut.”
So what gives with the radio silence? Billboard asked a number of experts to weigh in on why the former Celebrity Apprentice star has chosen this moment to hold his itchy Twitter finger in the wake of the most public pop culture takedown of his tenure. (Quotes have been edited for clarity.)
Michael D’Antonio — author of Trump biography The Truth About Trump
I think it might be that his target range has changed. He doesn’t seem to go after pop culture figures in the way that he once did. With [Celebrity Apprentice replacement Arnold] Schwarzenegger, it was personal, it had to do with someone who supplanted him directly, which was too close to ignore. I think in general, he’s confined himself to attacking the entertainment industry overall as a community, but he probably sees nothing to be gained from going after Eminem. The thing about the president is that every word and every act is predicated on his evaluation of whether it will advance him personally.
If he decides to go after NFL players, it’s because he sees something to be gained by opposing those who kneel and doing it in front of his base to energize them and to signal something culturally. That has to do with politics and in the case of Eminem, he doesn’t see an enemy worth pursuing because there’s not much to be gained. It’s sort of like shooting the scrawniest antelope on the savanna… He doesn’t believe there’s much meat to be had there and he lets it pass as he waits for a more appropriate target. He probably also sees less daylight between himself and some of [Eminem’s] supporters, which is why he doesn’t want to call more attention to Eminem’s critique.
I’ve noticed that if someone criticizes him for something real that matters to people and to him, he tends to be real quiet about it and he wants it to fade away rather than grow. He sees Eminem crossing over into some of his base and there isn’t a clear shot, so he doesn’t take it. I also don’t think that he’s been as aggressive where male pop culture figures are concerned. He tends to attack women. I think he is more inclined to hate a woman who criticizes him and be incited by a woman who criticizes him and [to] be afraid of a man who does.
Kat Timpf — Fox News contributor, The Greg Gutfeld show panelist
Eminem is one of greatest rappers of all time and it looks like even Pres. Trump knows that. The only reason for this is that he’s still hoping maybe Eminem one day will think he’s cool. He still wants to be in with the real Slim Shady. Absolutely I think that he’s afraid and he also probably just doesn’t want to make it worse… The president has kind of become the ‘Roaster in Chief’ to an extent. Every day there’s some sort of roast battle going on between him and someone else. But I don’t think he’s quite so confident in his skills against someone who has been roasting people for a living for a long time.
That is entirely possible [that Trump is waiting to respond]. If he sells even one less album it will be “Low-rated hack Eminem can’t sell albums since he went after Trump. Sad!” Eminem has made his career off of effectively roasting people and being able to rhyme while he does it and has a lot of huge fans because of it, myself included. I don’t know if he wants to go up against that and, again, maybe he just wants Eminem to think he’s cool. He doesn’t want to make it any worse. I think this one hurt.
Rob Markman — veteran hip-hop journalist, head of artist relations at Genius (in which Eminem has an ownership stake)
With his attacks on Hillary Clinton and [ESPN’s] Jemele Hill, I did expect that the next morning he’d fly back at Eminem. But I don’t think there’s anything he can say. I think he’ll wait until Em puts an album out and if it sells even one less copy than the previous one, gets one bad review, or there’s any numerical decline even in the slightest — he’ll tweet, “Look at his poor sales, failing Eminem. Sad!”
But Eminem isn’t going to go back and forth with him. He won’t get into a Twitter war. On his upcoming album, there will most likely be digs here and there — which is historically what he’s done, taken some shots at [Pres. George W.] Bush in the past. Em speaking politically isn’t something new. But it’s almost like, “What can you say?” It isn’t a battle Trump will win on Twitter.
It’s different than matching wits. If you look at a lot of Eminem fans, they’re loyal, they’ve been around his entire carer. They’re not fair weather and the fact that he drew that line in the sand with his fans [saying], “If you supported Trump you can’t be a fan of mine, I’m not fuckin’ with you.” It’s interesting, because there is a lot of overlap [in their followings] and it’ll be interesting to see how it affects him going into his next album. But I’m sure he picked up some new fans, who might offset the losses on the other side.
When Trump does tweet, it will be news and CNN will cover it. It’s his ace in the hole — when he doesn’t want to answer something, he uses a celebrity tweet to distract, as a diversion. If he’s in hot water when there’s a real crisis going on, he uses celeb drama as a smoke screen.”
Mike Muse — political and pop culture expert, co-host of Sway in the Morning on SiriusXm’s Shade 45 (Eminem’s channel)
Trump has proven himself to be a bully numerous times over and each time if you look at it from a metrics context, his bullying has always had an upper hand. He’s always had the upper hand in his use of Twitter and the number of followers that he has, an upper hand in the way that the media follows his every tweet, his every move. Trump has always also had the stability of his base, that 34-36 percent who will always support and cheer him on no matter what. When you combine all that, that makes for an empowered bully.
Every time he punches back, he’s almost always the protagonist. He always goes first and throws a first punch and the individual he’s attacking may punch back, but not with the fervor of Pres. Trump — and they don’t have that coalition to empower what their tweet or statements might be against the president. So I think he’s always felt emboldened by that.
Eminem is different. His demographic in terms of his fans transcends exactly what hip-hop is: race, class, culture and identity. Many of Eminem’s followers could be part of that 34-36 percent that follow Trump, but Eminem also has a powerful platform in music. Eminem can be played on any station across America, on any platform. Eminem’s name is equally as recognizable as Pres. Trump’s, not only here domestically, but globally.
Eminem’s platform and where he did it, on BET, also positioned him for this incredible moment of exposure — and it went viral in this incredible way, in which when people have punched back against Trump [before], it hasn’t. I actually believe Trump is afraid to go against Eminem. This is a situation where a bully has met his match. In terms of popularity, metrics and quantifying the response in the way in which it could come back at him — and the way Eminem did it — has put Trump in a corner, where he feels that he has lost and met his match.
He also knows that if he does come back at Eminem — if you look at that cypher and those of us who know Eminem know — Eminem is not going to take that and not respond. Eminem is not going to back down. So Trump has met his match in someone who has completely secured himself, who is unafraid to speak his opinion and who is definitely not going to let bygones be bygones.
I think Trump is aware of that and that’s why he’s essentially afraid to come back against Eminem… This is a battle that he will not win in the media. Eminem is a wordsmith, Pres. Trump is not a wordsmith. His tweet can’t stand up against an entire cypher from Eminem, especially in the day of viral moments.
This is more than taking a knee, it was a direct attack. He doesn’t want to fuck with Eminem. He speaks to a very similar type of voter as Donald Trump does. Donald Trump won Michigan, Eminem’s original midwest base. The difference is that Eminem is real and Donald Trump is full of shit. It’s a different culture war.
Eminem’s culture war is socio-economic — he cuts across race and class in a very different, honest way, with real integrity and has been doing so for years. This isn’t the first president Eminem has spoken out against. He was the first and maybe only multiplatinum artist during the [second] Iraq war to put bodies coming home in his video and [to speak] out against the Bush administration, on “Mosh.” He has the ability and integrity to talk to fans about real issues — and do so repeatedly — that gives him the ability to cut Donald Trump with it not being necessarily even partisan.
I don’t think Eminem would care [if Trump struck back]. I would like to think that a musician who has dealt with a little controversy in their lives is not going to care and will keep speaking out. There’s a great tradition in punk rock and hip-hop in this country of speaking truth to power. This only gives Eminem more credibility — and I don’t know him personally, but I would think he wouldn’t give a shit if Donald Trump came back at him personally.