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WASHINGTON — Martin Shkreli’s total disregard for decorum was on display Thursday when he was called to testify before a House committee. The disgraced pharma executive pleaded the Fifth when grilled about his decision to hike the price of a decades-old drug by more than 5,000 percent.

He smirked. He smiled. And almost as soon as he walked out of the hearing room, he tweeted that the elected representatives who had interrogated him were “imbeciles.”

It sounded, quite frankly, a whole lot like another celebrity-turned-political-symbol with a flair for impropriety: Donald J. Trump.


Bear with us. We’re onto something here.

First, let’s stipulate that Trump and Shkreli don’t like each other.


Trump has called Shkreli “a spoiled brat.” And in an interview with STAT last year, Shkreli contrasted his own humble upbringing in a working-class immigrant family with Trump’s inherited wealth — and noted that, in his estimation, selling pharmaceuticals is “a much greater cause” than dealing in real estate. “I don’t like Trump,” Shkreli said.

OK. But the parallels are undeniable.

Both wield social media as a weapon

Shkreli did something remarkable on Thursday: He used Twitter to insert his voice, in real time, into a congressional hearing just minutes after he was excused because he refused to answer questions.

After invoking his constitutional right to silence, Shkreli left the room and started tweeting. Lawmakers noticed his tweet calling them “imbeciles” — and started talking about it during the hearing. Representative Elijah Cummings, who minutes earlier had upbraided Shkreli for smirking through the questioning, wanted to know if Nancy Retzlaff, another Turing executive still at the hearing, knew about it. (She said she didn’t.)

It was classic Shkreli. And also, really, classic Trump.

Both tirelessly retweet their supporters. Both use Twitter to smack down critics and insult rivals. And both can’t resist using the forum to bash journalists. Just two recent examples:

Both gleefully overturn social norms

Congressional hearings and presidential debates are important and must be taken seriously. That’s the conventional wisdom.

Shkreli and Trump won’t have any of it.

Most corporate executives hauled in to testify before Congress treat it with a certain gravitas. (Retzlaff and Howard Schiller, the interim chief executive of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, were also on the hot seat at Thursday’s hearing, but they kept a sober demeanor as they politely answered questions.) Even when subpoenaed executives plead the Fifth, they tend to sit solemnly.

Shkreli? He saw the hearing as a theatrical, ultimately meaningless, attempt by lawmakers to make him a scapegoat for the drug industry’s widespread price hikes — and acted accordingly. His smirks and grins were so unusual for the venue that veteran Politico reporter John Bresnahan tweeted this:

Trump would have appreciated the show.

After all, he’s the candidate who skipped last week’s debate in Des Moines to make a point in his feud with Fox News.

Both drive people nuts

The Shkreli-Trump comparison isn’t a new one — back in October, Salon dubbed Shkreli “the Donald Trump of drug development.”

The Verge observed that Shkreli “has managed to offend almost as many people as Donald Trump without having the platform of a nationwide presidential campaign to help him.”

And therein lies another parallel: Much of their notoriety — and perhaps genius? — can be found in their preternatural ability to drive everybody else crazy.

Even for a politician, Trump has a unique ability to irritate the public. In November, when Gallup rounded up the favorability ratings of all the 2016 candidates, Trump scored by far the worst. By far.

The pharma industry is nearly as unpopular as politicians. A STAT-Harvard poll found that barely 50 percent of Americans believe drug companies are doing a good job serving their customers.

Yet it’s Shkreli who keeps getting singled out. He was the star (or target) of Thursday’s hearing. Ask voters in Iowa about drug prices, and his story is the one they bring up on their own — just as they’re more likely to mention Trump unprompted than any other candidate.

Both have set the media to second-guessing

Here’s one last parallel:

A lot of people believe Shkreli has gotten way too much ink.

Many think the same about Trump.

If you’ve read this far, you might disagree. But on that note, we’re out.

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