Will tonight's Daily Show appearance cement Jim Cramer's reputation as the Bernie Madoff of the Media? The embattled business analyst turned up on recovered felon Martha Stewart's show this morning to lower expectations.

"I'm a little nervous," Cramer said to Martha, doing his best scared-little-boy impression. "Is he going to kill me?"

"He's quick as lightning," Stewart said icily.

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"But I'm slow as molasses," Cramer replied.

The gambit is transparent: Fearing a rout, Cramer is trying to garner sympathy and make Stewart's critique seem like a cruel attack on an overmatched opponent. Cramer has apparently finally realized that, owing largely to his own missteps, he is facing an existential challenge to his position as a financial guru. And the jig may well be up tonight.

It didn't have to be this way, and wouldn't have been if Cramer could have kept his ego in check. Stewart's initial volley—a devastating clip montage of CNBC's fawning, upbeat coverage of institutions that eventually proved bankrupt or criminal—was aimed at the network, and featured jabs at Maria Bartiromo, Carl Quintanilla, and others. But Cramer took it as a personal affront and blasted back in a Mainstreet.com column, leaning into the punch and inviting Stewart's more devastating rejoinder. Moreover, Cramer went on the Today Show and MSNBC earlier this week and tried to spin the flap as a carping comedian versus brave prognosticator, failing to understand that the he was in a fight not with Stewart, but with the historical record of Jim Cramer saying a variety of extremely wrong things on television. His defense amounted to, "But I have to make predictions! It's my job!" Which rather substantially missed Stewart's point.

So what happens tonight? It could basically go two ways: Tucker Carlson or Bill Kristol. Stewart takes pride in inviting ideological opponents, even buffoons, on his show and treating them with respect, exemplified by his friendly if pointed chat with Kristol shortly before the election. But he can be vicious and cruel when his opponent is representing the interests not of a political point of view, but the lazy and entitled media establishment that the Daily Show exists to skewer. His artfully executed "stop hurting America" screed on Crossfire in 2004 was personally uncomfortable, effectively ended Tucker Carlson's television career, and actually ended Crossfire's run on CNN.

If he goes Carlson on Cramer, it will be ugly. All Cramer ever had going for him was a gonzo personality, the absence of a mental filter, and the trust of his audience that he knew what he was talking about. Without that trust he's just a comedian.