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Stephen Colbert and Hillary Clinton share some chardonnay and talk about What Happened?

Photo: Scott Kowalchyk/CBS

The title of Hillary Clinton’s new book about the 2016 presidential campaign provided Stephen Colbert with the perfect, deadpan, gallows humor laugh line throughout their interview on Tuesday’s Late Show. As in, “I don’t know how to start this interview other than saying... what happened?” That, plus Colbert’s repeated addresses of the woman he “would have bet anything” would be the next President of the United States as “Secretary Clinton” clearly stung the host, who memorably eulogized the Clinton campaign on a shellshocked election night special. Clinton herself, having had plenty of time to ruminate (sometimes, she confessed with the aid of some chardonnay of the type Colbert whipped out for an interview-concluding toast), came off as someone whose unthinkable disappointment has hardened into a resolve to battle the consequences of her defeat. “I’m not going anywhere,” Clinton announced to cheers from the Late Show audience, although her joke, “If they’d take up a collection to send me somewhere nice,” with which she began her declaration sounded like it contained more than a wisp of wistful wishing.

Still, the former First Lady, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and person who won the popular by 3 million or so votes evinced a politic willingness to engage with Colbert’s questions about still raw and pressing topics like Russian interference with the 2016 election, the very possible collusion of her opponent’s campaign with said Russians, that opponent’s alternately ludicrous and horrifying address to the United Nations that very afternoon, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s penchant for diminutive manspreading whenever he was forced to deal with Clinton in her role as an outspoken critic of his rule. (She did manage to get him warmed up by talking about his plans to tag endangered polar bears—presumably shirtless—although Putin still had to pointedly invite husband Bill to join him rather than Clinton herself.)

Throughout the two-segment interview, Colbert pressed Clinton to address her recent comments on NPR about the legitimacy of the 2016 election result, with Clinton, as ever, finding a way to talk about the issue of Russian attempts to influence an American election without engaging in the sort of red-faced, egomaniacal name-calling (like “Rocket Man,” to pick but one example) of the person who won more electoral (but not popular) votes. She also dismissed those interpreting her remarks as a call for a do-over, explaining simply, “there is no mechanism” to do so. Instead, Clinton (indulging in the the perhaps ill-advised humor-jokes that marked her campaign) referred to herself as “Paula Revere,” warning people that Putin, having clearly succeeded in undermining American democracy once, is going to be coming again in 2018, 2020, and beyond, and urging them to “mobilize at the ballot box,” since that is where “we settle our political differences.” (Colbert mused that that sounds an awful lot like “someone who cares about the Constitution,” unlike some other 2016 presidential candidates he could name.)

If readers have noticed however, the number of times that person (who, again, got creamed in the popular vote) has been named in this article to this point is zero, which seems to be as often as Clinton actually said the name “Donald Trump” throughout her appearance . She wasn’t shy, however, in condemning Trump’s middle school name-calling of another clearly unstable world leader with access to nuclear weaponry in front of the rest of the world, telling Colbert that a real leader’s first job is to “lead with diplomacy,” as “a way to demonstrate that the United States is the beacon that we want it to be.” Which sounds [opening chardonnay bottle] pretty presidential.


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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.