Stephen Colbert stung by sister's loss to Mark Sanford. Will he seek revenge?

Stephen Colbert rarely breaks out of his on-screen persona, but a bit of honest, raw anger seemed to peek out when he addressed his sister's loss to Mark Sanford in a congressional race.

Mic Smith/AP
First Congressional District Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch gives her concession speech at the Charleston Renaissance Hotel after losing to Republican Mark Sanford Tuesday in Charleston, S.C.

Stephen Colbert’s whole world has been rocked by his sister Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s loss to Mark Sanford in this week’s special election in South Carolina’s First Congressional district.

That’s the way Mr. Colbert acted on his show Wednesday night in any case, and we have to say it was so convincing there seemed to be truth peeking out from behind his blustering on-screen persona.

“Tonight I am angry, and for once that doesn’t make me happy,” he said. “My sister lost. How could this happen? I was so sure Lulu had won, because CNN called it for Sanford.”

As a result, Colbert said he was renouncing his South Carolina-hood, and becoming a North Carolina Tar Heel, “whatever the [bleep] that means.”

Then he renounced the renunciation after tasting North Carolina barbeque, which he described as a “sauce-less, vinegar-based meat product.”

Yes, Mr. Sanford is a Republican and his sister is a Democrat, and the first district is heavily GOP. But if you remember, Sanford got into trouble with an Argentinian mistress when he was governor. A story about his ex-wife accusing him of trespassing in their former family home broke late in the campaign cycle. The national GOP pulled its cash out of the race.

Colbert said he just did not get where his sister went wrong. Did she not raise enough money? Did she not campaign hard enough?

“Did she hold too few debates against a cardboard Nancy Pelosi?” said Colbert, lampooning a Sanford debate tactic.

The “Colbert Report” host then said the whole thing had shaken him to his core, because it was the first time he’d seen a campaign where he knew one of the candidates before they entered politics.

“I saw firsthand how her opponents smeared her with outrageous accusations I knew to be untrue,” said Colbert. “And that makes me wonder if other campaigns have done this as well.”

OK, let’s stop right there. Sanford would probably disagree as to whether he smeared his opponent. But that brings up a question: is Colbert going to seek revenge?

Perhaps Sanford should be on guard here. He’s just beaten the sister of a man who on Wednesday’s show said he makes a living “attacking people without thought.” Colbert has an audience of around two million people a night.

If you’re Sanford, what could go wrong?


Later on, Colbert got into an interesting bit in which he talked about partisanship, and how voters’ political opinions are as much based on what team they perceive themselves as on whether they actually approve of a policy or not.

This involved breathing helium from balloons and speaking in a squeaky voice. Trust us, it made narrative sense since it involved a congressional vote on national helium reserves. We’re not going to explain it beyond that.

But at one point, Colbert stopped, took a deep breath of helium, turned to the camera, and in his best high-pitch squeak said, “[Bleep] Sanford.” The audience roared.

Look, Colbert is not like other comedians – he’s more dangerous. We’ve written about this before. It’s like he’s a performance artist with a degree in political science. 

He’s got no problem going past boundaries at which other funny folk stop. Thus when he was asked to address the White House Correspondents Association dinner in 2006, he roasted both the media and George W. Bush to the point where the audience was visibly uncomfortable.

So we bet the name “Mark Sanford” comes up again on the show, and not in a positive way, even though the Colbert persona on screen is a conservative.

“Folks, I’ve always believed in partisanship, but now that it’s cost my sister a seat in Congress I have my doubts,” said Colbert.

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