The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Stephen Colbert briefly breaks down, says Trump’s baseless claims of fraud ‘cast a dark shadow on our most sacred right’

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CBS’s “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert has spent the past four years skewering President Trump, sometimes with jokes and sometimes with serious monologues. But he seemed to reach his breaking point Thursday night, as he became visibly choked up delivering an emotional speech about Trump’s attempts to cast doubt on the election with evidence-free claims of fraud.

Colbert filmed the show shortly after Trump’s White House address, which The Washington Post called “a speech of historic dishonesty” and “a litany of falsehoods and grievances, with some baseless conspiracy theories thrown in for good measure.” The three major broadcast networks all cut away from the briefing not long after it started.

The late-night comedian was not in a joking mood, as he started off standing next to his desk and was dressed in all black clothing.

“We’re taping this just a little while after Donald Trump walked into the White House briefing room, actually, and tried to poison American democracy. That’s why I’m not sitting down yet. I just don’t feel like it yet,” he said in a video that started to make the rounds on social media early Friday morning. “That’s also why I’m dressed for a funeral. Because Donald Trump tried really hard to kill something tonight.”

Speaking for the first time since election night, President Trump made a litany of false and misleading claims about voting and election results on Nov. 5. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Colbert briefly summarized the address (“nonsensical stuff about illegal vote dumps and corrupt election officials and secret Democratic counting cabals and, I don’t know, long-form birth certificates, probably”) and added, “If you did not know Joe Biden was getting close to 270, Donald Trump just provided all the proof you will ever need.” (The presidential candidates, Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, need to win a majority of 538 electoral votes — 270 — to win the election.)

He then explained why he was wearing all black. “I was getting dressed this afternoon and I thought, ‘He might try some shenanigans and it might be fitting to tell jokes while wearing something somber if he goes down that dark path.’ And I’m no prophet. It’s just that he’s so predictable,” he said. “For weeks, we’ve been talking about how there’d be a red mirage, and how all those outstanding Biden mail-in ballots might let Joe catch up. And that Trump would then probably come out around, I don’t know, Thursday maybe evening news time, and pretend that he won and accuse everybody else of cheating. The guy does not have another gear. Get a new act!”

Colbert added, “So, we all knew he would do this,” but had to stop, as he briefly broke down. He paused for nearly 15 seconds to collect himself and took a deep breath. His voice was choked up as he continued. “What I didn’t know is that it would hurt so much. I didn’t expect this to break my heart. For him to cast a dark shadow on our most sacred right. From the briefing room in the White House — our house, not his. That is devastating.”

“This is heartbreaking for the same reason that I didn’t want him to get covid. Certainly why I wanted him to survive. Because he is the president of the United States,” Colbert said. “That office means something. And that office should have some shred of decency.”

He also implored Republicans who have stayed silent to condemn Trump. “Republicans have to speak up — all of them. Because for evil to succeed, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing,” he said. “Say something right now, Republicans … it’s in your best interest. You only survived this up till now because a lot of voters didn’t want to believe everything that was obvious to so many of us: that Donald Trump is a fascist. And when it comes to democracy versus fascism, I’m sorry, there are not fine people on both sides. So you need to choose: Donald Trump or the American people? This is the time to get off the Trump train. Because he just told you where the train is going.”

Colbert saved a special skewering for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The late-night host just laughed when he heard McConnell declined to comment.

“Who is silent, gives consent. So, Mitch, we heard you loud and clear. You’re okay with this,” he said. “It’s not even a hard call. This is in your self-interest to support votes being counted. That’s how you got your jobs. But I guess Mitch McConnell is saying that he was reelected through fraudulent votes as well, and he’s holding onto the Senate because of fraudulent elections in other states, and Republicans picked up seats in the House because of fraudulent elections. So, cast them all out? Is that what your silence is saying, Mitch McConnell?”

“Because Americans are going to count something else starting right now: They’re going to count who was willing to speak up against Donald Trump trying to kill democracy. And they’ll count who will stay silent in the face of this desperate attack on the bedrock institution of this truly great nation,” Colbert continued. “Because he just attacked the thing that makes us most great. And it is time for you all to mean what your hats have been yelling.”

Colbert concluded by playing the viral video of Joe Gloria, the registrar of voters in Clark County, Nev., whose televised briefing this week was interrupted by a man shouting about how the “Biden crime family is stealing the election.” Gloria waited patiently until the man left and calmly asked, “Where were we?”

“He let that guy spew his crazy till he was tired and then watched him walk away. And then Joe Gloria took a deep breath and did his job. Which is what we should all do. Just stay cool,” Colbert said, and then segued into his regularly scheduled monologue.

Watch more:

Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and more joked about delayed election results and President Trump's response on Nov. 4. (Video: The Washington Post)

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