During his much anticipated Late Show appearance tonight, the Republican frontrunner will square off against host Stephen Colbert, leaving many to wonder if Donald Trump will finally get serious. It might be an odd question to ask about a candidate preparing to go on a sometimes light-hearted comedy show, but Colbert has set his show up as a formidable and important stop on the campaign trail. So will voters get some real answers out of Trump tonight?
If anyone can pull a detailed policy plan out of Trump, it would be Colbert. Although still in the opening stages of his Late Show hosting stint, he's hit the ground running with a series of slam-dunk political interviews. Where his first interview with Jeb Bush fell flat, the subsequent emotional segment featuring Vice President Joe Biden more than made up for it. And since then Colbert has had tough — but good-natured — interviews with other candidates like Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz.
But Trump is a whole other ballgame. Since the beginning, Colbert has been taking full advantage of the comedic goldmine that the candidate offers up — although he has thankfully forsaken doing Trump impersonations, like his late-night competitor Jimmy Fallon loves to do.
So far, Trump has been vague and evasive during interviews and speeches alike, making grand gestures about deportation, building walls, and getting tough — without actually citing how he'd make any of these things happen. But that shouldn't be a problem for Colbert, right? After all, this is the host who built up years of experience interviewing politicians on The Colbert Report. And just last night he had a lively debate with Cruz about same sex marriage and Ronald Reagan's legacy. If he can keep a robust debate going with Cruz, surely he can do anything. Right?
Except the problem is that Cruz can debate — and Trump can't. Despite his lead, Trump's Republican primary debate performances haven't been stellar. He's more focused on the sensationalism of his countenance and his punchy insults, which have carried him through. But it becomes more and more obvious that, when paired against someone as knowledgeable as Colbert or other politicians, he falls flat.
Colbert will surely try his hardest to pull something — anything — out of Trump, but he's likely to fail through no fault of his own. If Colbert applies the pressure, Trump may get frustrated and feel backed into a corner. Instead of producing solid policy points or genuine solutions, he's likely to return to his inflammatory rhetoric, or even begin pressing back.
During Trump's appearance, Colbert has the unique opportunity to weave humor with fact, and showcase Trump's lack of solid political knowledge or strategic planning. It could potentially be very embarrassing for Trump, and could be the moment that some Americans are waiting for — when it finally becomes abundantly and painfully clear to all that Trump's big ideas have no legitimate planning behind them.
But that's unlikely to happen. Colbert, despite the fact that he is first and foremost a comedian, is an experienced and nuanced interviewer. And jokes aside, he's respectful to his guests — even going so far as to reprimand his crowd when they booed Cruz. He won't let Trump off the hook as easily as Fallon did during the billionaire's Tonight Show appearance, but he will probably be unwilling to push the candidate too far.
What viewers will most likely experience tonight is the typical Trump — blasé about the interview, frustratingly vague, and repeating many talking points. If we're lucky, Colbert will push. But given the candidate's penchant for turning on interviewers, maybe we shouldn't hold our breath.