Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @deanofcomedy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. For more on comedy, catch CNN’s “The History of Comedy” Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Dean Obeidallah: Yes, Stephen Colbert was joking about running for President in 2020, but there's often truth in jest
He could crush Donald Trump -- he is funny, well-informed, likable and thoughtful -- everything Donald Trump isn't, Obeidallah writes
“Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the 46th President of the United States: Stephen T. Colbert.”
That has a nice sound to it, and given Colbert’s comments over the weekend, perhaps the late night host is truly thinking of running against Donald Trump in 2020. And if he did, Colbert very well could be the ideal candidate to crush the current President come November 2020.
Colbert’s remarks came Friday during an appearance on the Russian late night TV show, “Evening Urgant.” While being interviewed by the show’s host, Ivan Urgant, Colbert revealed that he had a big announcement. Then, with a straight face, Colbert declared, “I am here to announce that I am considering a run for president in 2020.” As the audience applauded, Colbert quipped, “And I thought it would be better to cut out the middleman and just tell the Russians myself.”
He added, “If anyone would like to work on my campaign in an unofficial capacity, please just let me know.”
Yes, Stephen Colbert was joking, but there’s often truth in jest. And all joking aside, Colbert could be a formidable candidate: he is obviously well informed on the issues, as we see from his nightly monologue, has high name recognition, and hosts the most-watched late night show in America.
Colbert also has a few other key things needed to defeat Donald Trump. People running against him better be able to take a joke – and more importantly, deliver a funny, cutting comeback. Look what happened during the GOP primaries as Donald Trump mocked opponents like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, calling him a “choker,” a “lightweight,” and a “clown.” How did Rubio respond? He made an awkward joke about Donald Trump wetting his pants. Yikes, that was awful. In contrast, Stephen Colbert has shown us for years he has the skills to use comedy to undercut politicians and their arguments.
Another big plus for Colbert is that he’s very effective at using Donald Trump’s weapon of choice, Twitter, to troll him. For example, on Thursday, President Trump tweeted that he didn’t personally record his conversation with former FBI Director James Comey, but added he didn’t know if “tapes” existed. In response, Colbert tweeted a photo of himself in Russia dressed in a trenchcoat looking like a detective: “.@realDonaldTrump Don’t worry, Mr. President. I’m in Russia. If the ‘tapes’ exist, I’ll bring you back a copy!” (That tweet went viral.)
Colbert also offers an intangible quality that makes him uniquely well-suited to take on Donald Trump: his jibes get under the President’s skin. Just last month, after Colbert made a crude joke about Donald Trump’s “love” for Vladimir Putin, President Trump (the guy who is supposed to be focused on things like keeping the nation safe, creating jobs, and the like) took time out of being President to lash out at Colbert, calling the late night host a “no-talent guy” and venting that without him, Colbert would be nothing in the ratings.
Did Colbert respond with an awkward, unfunny joke, like most politicians? Nope. Instead, he opened his show the following day perfectly, stating, “The President of the United States has personally come after me and my show, and there’s only one thing to say: yeah!” Colbert then let out a self-congratulatory laugh while blowing kisses to the audience. Colbert added, “Don’t you know I’ve been trying for a year to get you (Donald Trump) to say my name? And you were very restrained – admirably restrained – but now you did it.” Colbert paused and then jubilantly added, “I won!”
Perhaps those last two words are what a candidate Colbert would be uttering come election night in 2020. In fact, any of the late night comedians who focus on politics, such as Samantha Bee or Seth Meyers, could also be effective candidates against Donald Trump. (While John Oliver and Trevor Noah would also be great, unlike President Obama – who President Trump falsely claimed was born outside the United States – Noah and Oliver were actually born in foreign countries and are thus ineligible to run for President.)
But Colbert is the best of the bunch. He is funny, well-informed, likable and thoughtful – everything Donald Trump isn’t. Plus, wouldn’t it be great to have a President we laugh with, instead of at?