Colbert’s magic trick: Taming GOP firebreathers Trump and Cruz

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Colbert didn’t eviscerate Trump — but he didn’t have to: The “Late Show” host knows great sketch material when he sees it.

Donald Trump says he’s done appearing on Fox News shows for the “foreseeable future” because he doesn’t like the network’s coverage of his presidential campaign. In many ways, it was a dream matchup: Donald Trump versus Stephen Colbert, who played a faux-Trump character on his old “Colbert Report” Comedy Central show.

“I want to thank you not only for being here but for running for president,” Colbert told the Republican front-runner. “I’m not going to say this stuff writes itself, but you certainly do deliver it on time every day.” Colbert’s gratitude for Trump’s comic assistance was well-placed.Even Stephen Colbert seemed kind of surprised to have Donald Trump as a guest on “The Late Show.” His tenure in the chair that used to be David Letterman’s had stretched all of 10 episodes before he booked presidential candidate Trump—the theatrical, showy blowhard that is currently the GOP frontrunner, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year. The billionaire businessman and leading Republican candidate tweets that Fox News has been treating him “very unfairly” and that he’s going to stop appearing on its shows. Peppering Trump with questions and wisecracks during his appearance, the CBS host reduced the usually domineering Trump to straight-man status, an unaccustomed role Trump performed with grace. But a Fox News spokeswoman says that Trump only announced his boycott after the channel canceled a scheduled Trump appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor” Thursday.

Bringing up Trump’s proposal to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, Colbert offered his own mocking version of a way to bar illegal immigration: Two walls, and in between them a moat filled with fire and fireproof crocodiles. “Is that enough?” Colbert asked. Colbert’s new to this non-persona life, after the near-decade of “The Colbert Report,” and Donald Trump is the final boss of political interviews.

He didn’t seem too interested in getting into it with Trump—at least not in the same way that he challenged Ted Cruz on several points a night prior, and certainly not with the outright provocation of his Colbert Report character’s digs at the tycoon-turned-reality star-turned-politician. And focusing on Trump’s insistence that Mexico would pay for the wall, Colbert drew him into a role-playing exercise — a phone call where “you’re you, and I’m the president of Mexico.” “The Republican Party has been a big pusher of the idea that money is speech, and you’re a $10 billion mouth,” said Colbert. “You’re their worst nightmare.” Trump repeated his contention, as a former heavy campaign donor, that candidates who accept major contributions are typically “owned” by those donors once in office. “You gave them a big contribution and you want something and all of a sudden they’ve very receptive,” he said. Donald Trump, presidential candidate, only enters spaces he knows he can win; the guest’s seat under bright studio lights and a live audience is one of them.

Trump, who’s pushing a harsh anti-immigration program and continues to imply that he thinks President Obama was born in Kenya, talking with a skilled host who, in his new incarnation as a real person, appears to lean to the left. Colbert asked Trump to address questions about whether he’s a Barack Obama “birther,” and when Trump refused, the host appeared content to just move on.

If you didn’t make a healthy gift, “believe me, you get the cold shoulder.” Colbert asked if Trump really wants to be president: “If you actually got the gig, would that be a step down for you? Indeed, in the first few minutes of Trump’s interview, I found myself realizing why people have become enamored of him, his contradictory and reprehensible views be damned. Trump has a completely different level of confidence and ease in the public eye than any of the other Republican candidates that have wormed their way onto talk shows; he has nothing at all to lose.

He is an out-of-touch crank at Thanksgiving dinner who has accidentally alighted onto a few topics that seem to resonate with his listeners, and the validation is intoxicating. He’s like an internet troll, except there he is on the stage, running for president of the United States—and even apparently leading the pack, despite a post-debate dip. He kept nodding in response to Colbert’s jokes, saying agreeably, “Sure, you’re right.” When he talked about building his wall on the southern US border, and invoked the Great Wall of China, Colbert interjected that Jesus had helped build that. Colbert said that he would offer Trump an easy “big, fat meatball” question. “There’s sauce all over my hand this meatball is so big,” Colbert said.

His entire professional philosophy hinges on letting the viewers decide for themselves what to think, because he believes in comedy doing the talking for itself. Trump skittered sideways, implying again that he continues to believe in the discredited notion that the president is a foreigner, and thus constitutionally unfit for the job. The fact that Trump aced Colbert’s test shows that he’s well aware of all the outrageous things he says—that they aren’t just innocuous throwaway remarks, but rather actual beliefs that he holds strongly.

It’s a clear break from David Letterman—witness this tense interview with Trump from January 2015—but it’s the approach that made Colbert both famous and beloved. Colbert has abandoned his bombastic fictional conservative persona, but here he uses it to make a savvy point: He places it right next to the real Trump, and the two look eerily similar. “We’re going to have a beautiful, big, fat door,” so that immigrants “can come into the country legally,” Trump said, seriously, before audience laughter cut him off. What they perhaps do not realize is that Colbert would love for Trump to win the GOP nomination, so that he could be annihilated in the general; I mean, say what you will about that scenario, but surely we can all admit that it would be pretty funny. One of the biggest laughs of the encounter came at the end of a game of “Trump or Colbert,” in which Trump had to guess whether a particular quote came from himself or from Colbert’s conservative “Colbert Report” character.

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