To be honest, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) really only said one good thing about Donald Trump if you sort of squish together the two guardedly neutral things he finally managed to come up with after a very long “Ummm...” on Thursday’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert. For the record, he agrees with Trump’s campaign positions regarding taking on the price-gouging, EpiPen-price-hiking ways of Big Pharma, and dedicating a trillion dollars to repairing U.S. infrastructure. (Although he does call Trump’s stated goal of privatizing all infrastructure “total nonsense,” so let’s settle on “three-quarters of a nice thing to say about Donald Trump.”)
“Guarded” might seem an odd way to describe the infamously forthright Sanders, but he did, indeed, field Colbert’s questions—about Trump, leaked criticisms of him from Hillary Clinton’s upcoming book, and whether he’s running again in 2020—with a studiously on-message call to unity that never swerved to take any of Colbert’s conversational bait. On Clinton’s accusations (dubbed “pony promises,” as Colbert notes) that Sanders’ unbending adherence to overpromising divided the left, Sanders countered with a list of progressive issues (universal healthcare, free college, a $15 minimum wage, criminal justice reform) which he claims have become mainstreamed by his campaign’s refusal to abide by the idea that certain progressive principles shouldn’t be talked about. (Bernie himself has a Medicare-for-all bill coming up in the Senate on Wednesday, although he himself has admitted that there’s no earthly way it will pass at this point.)
Colbert’s crowd responded enthusiastically, which is sort of the point, one supposes, although Sanders’ repeated calls for the Democratic Party and progressives to come together partook of the same crowd-pleasing messaging without addressing how best to reconcile the still-open warfare going on between some Sanders and Clinton supporters. (Sanders’ dig that Clinton couldn’t manage to beat “the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country” was certainly a departure from the high road he otherwise adopted.) Still, Sanders (there to plug his own new book, Bernie Sanders Guide To Political Revolution) was his wonted “grumpy but twinkly old uncle” self, parrying Colbert’s attempts to edge him into a rehash of the 2016 campaign. (Clinton will be in that very same chair on Tuesday, September 19th’s Late Show, so we’ll see how that works out.) If nothing else, Sanders’ recurring, hard-to-argue talking point was that, in a world where Donald Trump is in the White House, there are bigger issues facing Americans who aren’t horrible, squirmy bigots and/or larcenous plutocrats than squabbling over how he got there in the first place.