A politician typically goes on a late-night comedy show so that he can deliver his message to a wide audience, banter with a friendly host, and generally prove to the world that he is, as Hillary Clinton might put it, “a real person.”
When Ted Cruz walked off stage after his appearance with Stephen Colbert on Monday night, he had accomplished none of those goals.
Colbert greeted his frequent conservative foil politely enough, but he then proceeded to give him the toughest interview of his brief tenure on CBS. Interrupting Cruz repeatedly, Colbert confronted him over his opposition to gay marriage, his selective adulation of Ronald Reagan, and his uncompromising political style. By the end of the appearance, the host had to step in to stop his studio audience from jeering the Republican presidential hopeful. “Now guys, guys, however you feel, he’s my guest, so please don’t boo him,” Colbert pleaded as Cruz began to give a boilerplate response on gay marriage. The crowd quieted.
The tension in the Cruz interview came during the second segment, when Colbert laid a bit of a trap for him by asking how the modern Republican Party could hold Reagan in such high esteem given that he raised taxes and signed legislation granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants. “Neither of those things would allow Ronald Reagan to be nominated today,” Colbert said. “So how can you truly emulate Ronald Reagan?” Noting—as Democrats frequently do—that Reagan repeatedly struck agreements with House Speaker Tip O’Neill, Colbert asked whether that’s what voters wanted—a president who would work across the aisle, delivering “action” rather than simply “principles.”