As September draws to a close, it seems appropriate to take a look back at the gaggle of presidential candidates who flocked to the late-night shows this month.
With the Republican debates drawing such high ratings on Fox News Channel and CNN, the late-night shows likely saw an opportunity for high ratings of their own and suddenly, the presidential candidates were all over the place -- on “Fallon”: Donald Trump on Sept. 11, Hillary Clinton on Sept. 16, and Carly Fiorina on Sept. 21; on “Colbert”: Jeb Bush on Sept. 8, Joe Biden (not technically a candidate) on Sept. 10, Bernie Sanders on Sept. 18, Ted Cruz on Sept. 21, and Trump on Sept. 22; and on “Late Night with Seth Meyers”: John Kasich this past Tuesday (Sept. 22).
How’d they do? Here’s a purely subjective, opinionated report card:
Hillary Clinton: As Jimmy Fallon’s guests are required to do these days, the former U.S. Secretary of State took part in a comedy bit where she received a phone call from Trump (played by Fallon) who was full of advice on how she should conduct herself on the “Fallon” show. Though Fallon’s impersonations are often spot-on, he has trouble doing Trump and the bit fell flat.
In her interview segments with Fallon, Hillary played along as Fallon made fun of Trump’s hair. She invited Jimmy to touch her hair and later she even imitated Trump. She and Fallon talked about parenting (she advised that he make time to read aloud to his small children -- aww) and the two had a big laugh over her e-mail scandal, he helping her portray the whole thing as trivial.
Grade: C+. I admit I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton’s, so when she comes on the late-night shows full of good nature and easygoing laughter, it never rings true to me. Fallon’s an expert at fake, over-the-top laughter too, so between the two of them, the insincerity-meter was off the charts.
Donald Trump: The funny thing about Trump is that he can take jokes about himself, but not criticism. The late-night hosts can tease him without mercy and he comes across as completely unconcerned. But let one of his political rivals criticize him on Fox News (as Marco Rubio has been doing all week this week), then Trump puts on his frowny face and lets fly.
On “Fallon,” Trump endured a Fallon impersonation of him in a bit in which the Fallon Trump “interviewed” the real Trump through a mirror (as it were). “Me interviewing me? That’s what I call a great idea!” said Trump, who didn’t seem to mind playing along. On both “Colbert” and “Fallon,” Trump sat calmly while each of them needled him over issues such as his idea to build a wall on the border with Mexico -- an idea which surprisingly drew applause from Colbert’s audience.
Grade: B+. I’m no particular fan of Trump’s either, but I have to admit, the guy has a knack for appearing on the late-night shows. Love him or hate him, he’s just very comfortable in his own skin and comes across as “real.” Go figure.
Jeb Bush: His appearance on Colbert’s first “Late Show” may have helped set off the frenzy to book all of these presidential candidates on the September late-night shows. But his appearance with Colbert was so unmemorable that it made almost no impression.
Joe Biden: His heart-to-heart talk with Colbert over the personal tragedies they have each experienced was very moving -- a great “humanizing” moment for the vice president that even made him likable to one who doesn’t usually care for him (OK, me again).
Carly Fiorina: Appearing just days after she scored points on the CNN Republican Debate, she and Fallon talked about Trump -- particularly where the subject of Vladimir Putin was concerned. She criticized Trump for his usual vagueness when it comes to articulating how he’ll deal with the Russians if he is elected president. She used her Fallon appearance to restate her own plans for stemming Russian aggression, vowing to flex American military muscle in the regions where she feels the Obama administration has been weak -- namely, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Grade: B. On the issues, she made the same strong impression she made in the CNN debate. Unlike Hillary, she and Fallon shared few laughs, but her appearance on “The Tonight Show” was a win for her.
Ted Cruz: Having made few (if any) appearances on the late-night shows over the years, Cruz -- an outspoken and avowed conservative -- is an unknown quantity to the typical late-night audience, both at home and in the studio. So when he voiced his reservations about gay marriage on the “Colbert” show, the audience inside the Ed Sullivan Theater booed him. To the host’s credit, Colbert gently admonished his audience and asked them to give Cruz a chance to say his piece.
Grade: B. Cruz is no entertainer, but he came across reasonably enough. That may be due to Colbert, who has proven himself skillful in these first few weeks on CBS at conducting somewhat serious interviews in the context of a late-night comedy show.
Bernie Sanders: Now here’s a guy I don’t agree with at all, but I have to say he did very well on the “Colbert” show. He was articulate, easygoing and not unpersuasive as he spelled out the point-of-view that is defining his candidacy: Too many rich people are hoarding the wealth of this country while the middle class works harder, earns and saves less, and cannot afford basics such as healthcare. I had basically ignored Sanders up to now, but in his “Colbert” appearance, he promoted his “brand” so well that I have no doubt about who he is and what he stands for. He even worked in his campaign’s slogan -- “Feel the Bern” -- which I had not heard before.
John Kasich: Though he continues to lag behind the Republican frontrunners (Trump, Bush, Ben Carson, Fiorina and Rubio) in the opinion polls, Kasich has come across as likable, thoughtful, knowledgeable and mature in the Republican debates. He was just as calm, cool and collected on the “Meyers” show earlier this week.