UPDATED with Trump reax: Large-handed, thin-skinned Donald Trump responded this morning to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s show-stealing turn on The Daily Show last night. Graham explained that his endorsement of Ted Cruz for GOP nominee “tells you everything you need to know about Donald Trump.” Graham described Trump’s platform: “opportunistic, race baiting, religious bigotry –and xenophobic. Other than that, he’d be a good nominee.”
PREVIOUSLY: What happens when you throw a busted presidential candidate, with a caustic wit, an imploding political party, and nothing to lose, into a late-night cable comedy show? If it’s South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham visiting The Daily Show, he blows the place up.
Host Trevor Noah set up Graham’s appearance with a segment in which he demonstrated how the Republican Party’s relationship with Donald Trump actually is a rom-com storyline: The party thinks it hates Trump, but he’s actually the man of its dreams.
Noah then introduced Graham.
“Good as it gets — which is kinda sad, really,” Graham said, in control from the moment he took his seat.
“What’s as good as it gets? You, or the show? What are you saying?” asked Noah, already perplexed.
“I saw the opening. This is just an observation more than anything else,” Graham replied Cheshire Cat-like.
“You have officially endorsed Ted Cruz…” Noah began, heading to the Land of the Obvious Interview, to ambush the unflappable Graham.
“I’m on the Ted train. Absolutely. What’s not to like?” Graham snarked.
“Which is a very interesting train for you to be aboard,” Noah continued, plowing past Graham’s quips. He rolled that video of Graham saying at a dinner in February: “If you kill Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody could convict you.”
Noah wondered if Graham was, or still is, a fan of GOP evangelical candidate Cruz.
Graham, stating the obvious, said his endorsement of the Texas senator, “tells you everything you need to know about Donald Trump.”
The crowd ooh-ed.
“I don’t understand it,” Noah said.
“Well, you’re not from here,” Graham shot back. “I don’t dislike Ted. Ted and I have a lot of differences,” he continued, diplomatically, if not convincingly. Then Graham grinned and said, of his horseradish-dishing-out style, “I’m getting better at this.”
The crowd erupted approvingly.
“He was my 15th choice. What can I say?” Graham grinned.
Noah asked Graham, who was by now now the audience’s favorite Republican, ever, what was there positive to say about Cruz.
“One, he’s not completely crazy,” Graham said, making a check mark on an imaginary list.
“So, he’s partially crazy?” Noah said, trying hard to keep up with Graham, comedically. “That works in Washington. We’ve got Bernie Sanders,” Graham responded, landing another one.
Asked what else “turned him on” about Cruz, Graham said, “He’s not Trump.” The real estate mogul-turned reality-TV star’s campaign, Graham said, is “opportunistic, race baiting, religious bigotry” –and xenophobic. “Other than that, he’d be a good nominee.”
Noah tried to point out that Trump seems to fit the GOP like a glove (see show’s first segment, above).
Graham conceded that “35 percent of my party believes that Obama’s a Muslim born in Kenya” and Trump has “locked that crowd down” while “the other 65% of us just think he’s a bad president.
“I don’t get paid to do this!” Graham reminded the audience, when that gag died in the hall. Then, without warning, he switched signals on Noah, asking the South African native, “Are you a citizen?”
“Am I a citizen? No, I’m not,” Noah answered cautiously. “I’m not, why?”
“Do you have a green card?” Graham persisted.
“I do not,” Noah said, now visibly uncomfortable.
“If I were you, Id’ be in a hurry,” Graham guffawed. “If Trump wins, your days are numbered, pal. Young black liberal guy from Africa is not going to work with him.”
Noah retreated to the comfort of another video clip, this time of Graham being asked if he would prefer a Cruz or Trump nomination, and responding, “It’s like being shot or poisoned. What does it really matter?”
Noah, thinking he’d regained control of the interview, wondered which candidate was which.
“Donald is like being shot in the head. You might find an antidote to the poisoning – I don’t know, but maybe there’s time,” Graham explained patiently.
While Noah struggled to get out some words, Graham explained patiently, “I’m saying, ‘My party’s completely screwed up’.” And the crowd roared.
Noah wondered why the party had to nominate either man.
“It’s called democracy. Welcome to America,” Graham told Noah, then added, “I want to change my name to Boaty McBoatface.”
Then, they played pool. Graham won that too.