With Wednesday’s election-shifting announcement that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (D/I-VT) is ending his bid to become the next president sending the internet into an even more insufferable tizzy than usual, Stephen Colbert managed to get the Senator on the line for an interview. Sitting in his chessboard-at-the-ready study, Sanders may have looked understandably disappointed, but—as has been the case in his many Late Show appearances over the years—quickly seized the opportunity in this moment of resigned defeat to get right back on message. And while that message has plenty of moving parts, Sanders stressed to Colbert that, regardless of the way the Democratic primary went, “I will do everything that I can to make sure that Donald Trump is not reelected.”
Colbert—as is the case whenever you give Bernie Sanders some valuable airtime—mainly let Bernie talk throughout the three segments that formed most of Wednesday’s Late Show (at-home edition), but did press Sanders on when his endorsement of last candidate standing Joe Biden will come—and how “full-throated” it will be. Sanders brushed past Colbert’s reference to the fact that many Hillary Clinton supporters thought his throat wasn’t quite as full is it needed to be when he dropped out in 2016, claiming, “I worked as hard as I could to see that Trump was not elected.” (And calling out Trump’s “narcissism” and “ignorance,” for good measure.)
Stressing that he considers Joe Biden “a very decent human being,” Sanders did hint that the extent of his enthusiasm for a Biden presidency will hinge on certain conditions. “He’s not going to come to where I am,” Sanders conceded, although the volubly progressive now-former candidate did say that he is impressed with Biden’s stance in opposition to special interests (like Big Pharma, an industry Sanders called “properly detested”). As to other issues that formed the foundation of the Sanders campaign (free public college tuition, universal healthcare, ending mass incarceration, a livable minimum wage, meaningful climate change legislation, non-racist immigration reform), Sanders expressed optimism that former Vice President Biden will—if for no other reason than electoral necessity—adopt positions a lot closer to his as the November election looms nearer. “I hope to be able to work with Joe to move him in a more progressive direction,” said Sanders, nimbly.
Colbert, paraphrasing poetically of his 78-year-old guest, “You may not make it to the promised land, but you have been to the mountaintop,” asked Sanders what practical steps he can now take in the Senate, especially in response to the unprecedented and multifarious COVID-19 crises going on. Sanders, unsurprisingly, had some ideas (picking up the paychecks of those laid off, stopping equipment shortages and price-gouging via the Defense Production Act), but saved his sharpest criticism for the Republican Party’s recent life-threatening power-grab in Wisconsin. Calling the GOP’s decision to force voters there to cram into a tiny percentage of the state’s polling places in person during a highly contagious pandemic, “the ugliest thing that I have seen from a political perspective in my lifetime,” Sanders stressed that it’s such Republican machinations that the rest of us have to work to stop. Sanders wasn’t reticent in implying that the shrinking-based GOP cannot be trusted when it comes to ensuring all Americans can actually vote, since (to paraphrase again) Americans increasingly think conservatives’ ideas are hot garbage. Signing off, Colbert asked if Sanders had broken the news to SNL guest impersonator (and unexpected relative) Larry David yet, ending a sad day for Sanders and his supporters with a laugh, at least.