Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is a puppet who became famous in the late 1990s for showing up on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and threatening to poop on the guests.
Twenty years of poop jokes later, Triumph has become part of the U.S. political fabric.
As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) fights to defend his seat from a potential Democratic wave, one of his last interviews to air before Election Day was with Triumph, who caught the senator’s attention at a rally by shouting: “I have a preexisting condition that makes me vomit out of my eyes whenever I look at you.”
The Yugoslavian Mountain Hound and his camera crew were in Texas last week, although the footage didn’t air until Monday night on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” Perhaps in an effort to show bipartisan neutrality, Triumph first crashed a Houston rally for Cruz’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has raised more than $70 million and is polling within a few points of Cruz in the deeply conservative state.
“Beto, I saw the speech,” Triumph told O’Rourke after tracking him through a crowd of excited fans. “I loved the way you were anybody but Ted Cruz.”
“Thank you,” O’Rourke said with a wide grin.
“Tell me this Beto,” Triumph asked. “Does it concern you that half your base thinks they can vote for you through Instagram?”
O’Rourke’s grin suddenly seemed a little tense. “Yeah, it’s going to have to turn into real votes,” he said. “But we’re seeing a real voter turnout so far — ”
Triumph interrupted: “With the uncertainty surrounding these voting machines, is it now more important than ever for Democrats to go out there and vote twice?”
O’Rourke swallowed and wagged a finger in the air. “Vote once,” he said. “That’s, that’s the law.”
Triumph lobbed him a softball to wrap it up: “What’s Ted Cruz have that you don’t have, besides the ability to regenerate his tail?”
O’Rourke’s smile looked quite frozen now. He shook his head. “There’s nothing I can say."
Then it was on to Harlingen, where Triumph put on a cowboy hat and stuck a cigar in his maw as he forged into a sea of Cruz fans.
This was hardly Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s first political assignment. “The poop I left in the dressing room has more heat coming off it than his campaign,” he said on the “Tonight Show” in 2003, just before Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry took the stage. “Kerry seemed slightly shaken by the dog puppet’s jabs, and took a few moments to get settled,” the Los Angeles Times wrote.
After years of campaign trail work, Triumph first tried to interview Cruz in early 2016 while the senator campaigned against Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. He even strapped himself to a drone to chase a campaign bus, but like Cruz’s race that year, the puppet’s efforts failed.
Triumph had better luck in Harlingen last week. “You can’t ignore me, Ted,” he shouted as he pushed through a crowd. “I’m not overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming!”
Cruz sheltered for a while in a throng of fans seeking autographed “Make America Great Again” hats, but he finally acknowledged the dog.
“Hey, welcome to Texas,” he said. Warmly, even.
Triumph sounded genuinely surprised. “How are you, Ted?” he said. “I can’t believe this! This is a privilege! Can you tell these people not to kill me if I make a joke or two?”
“That depends how bad a joke,” Cruz quipped. The senator laughed, but almost everyone else behind the camera was scowling at the puppet — or possibly at comedian Robert Smigel, who has accompanied Triumph on all his outings since the dog’s TV debut in 1997.
“Ted, is it true you will defend the Constitution at all costs, except for when Donald Trump calls it ugly on Twitter?” Triumph asked.
Cruz inhaled and put a hand on his chest. “I love the Constitution,” he said. “And Twitter is Twitter.”
Cruz looked game to field more questions from the insult dog, but the crowd around him was visibly agitated. A police officer barricaded the puppet from the senator with his arm. “Talk with your supporters, not him!” a woman yelled at Cruz.
“We can all have a conversation,” Cruz said gently.
“I’m not hurting him, right?” Triumph agreed. “I have a Cuban in my mouth for God’s sake!”
Cruz laughed. Triumph’s play on his ethnicity seemed to cut the tension in the room. “Let’s be civil here,” the dog said. “Nobody should be yelling at this man in a public place. Doesn’t the man have the right to sit down in a restaurant and enjoy a meal that five waiters have spit in?”
“I will say to Triumph two things,” Cruz said. “As a Cuban American, anyone smoking a cigar can’t be all bad. . . .”
“That’s right!” Triumph interjected.
“And two: I just want to say to Triumph my advice is walk away. And just remember: It wasn’t the Republicans, it was the Democrats that took you into the vet to get fixed, and there is freedom on the other side.”
Someone laughed off screen. A man beside the senator looked down and wiped his nose. The police officer continued to stare at the puppet.
Triumph’s rebuttal came instantly, at least in “The Late Show’s” edit sequence. “I support spaying and neutering,” he told Cruz, “just like Trump did to you.”
The senator groaned and continued to smile.