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.
This face-off took place Tuesday night on the set of Mr. Colbert’s new hangout, the CBS “Late Show." There must have been fireworks, right? You’ve got Mr. 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.
Not really. What you got was an encounter of the mild kind. Trump seemed toned-down in front of an audience he assumed would not be supportive. Colbert seemed unwilling to offend his guest.
For instance, at the start, Colbert apologized to Trump for the many times he had insulted Trump in the past. The billionaire accepted this gesture with equanimity. He declined Colbert’s offer to apologize himself for anything he’d said about anyone. (Megyn Kelly, anyone?)
Trump seemed un-Trumpian. 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.
“You’re right, you’re right,” said Trump. Then, he barreled back into his immigration talking points.
One moment of near-tension illustrates the show’s dynamic. 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.
Then, he asked this: “Barack Obama, born in the United States?”
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.
“I don’t really talk about it anymore,” he said. “I talk about jobs, I talk about our veterans being horribly mistreated.”
Colbert didn’t press the issue, so Trump rambled for a bit on the veterans subject. In doing so, he’s behaving as a skilled politician, we’ll point out. Good politicos know that when you’re hit with a tough question, answer the question you wish they’d asked, not the actual query.
That’s what Ben Carson did not do when asked whether a Muslim should be president of the US. He said they should not, producing days of negative headlines for himself, and possibly damaging the GOP as a whole.
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.
The final quote was, “The real strong have no need to prove it to the phonies."
Trump said, “It’s not me. It could be you.”
“It’s not me, either,” said Colbert. “It’s Charles Manson.”