When I wrote about Stephen Colbert a couple of weeks ago, I said that the thing I admired most about him was his willingness to disrupt the system, whether he’s nuking the vibe at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner or pushing the limits of what you can do with a Super PAC. All of which makes me wonder how far he’ll be willing and able to go with his run for president, if he actually gets in the game.
It’s one thing to buy ad time and cut spots to run in the slots you’ve bought. That’s a relatively easy task for people whose jobs involve making short, funny segments and airing them on television: the only difference is that you’re paying for the air time rather than being paid to fill it up. And even though I’m generally less fond of him, I think Jon Stewart, who has control of Colbert’s Super PAC now, and his staff will be able to do that just fine. People tolerate a lot of weirdness on most of their airwaves anyway.
But it’s a lot harder to convince people that you should be allowed to participate in the mechanisms of the presidential contest. South Carolina, Colbert’s home state, doesn’t actually allow write-in campaigns for primaries, and because he didn’t meet the registration deadline, there won’t be a way for him to compete in the race there. Presidential debates, no matter how silly they can become, tend to be considered a different kind of space. We can argue over whether Buddy Roemer or Colbert is a less serious candidate, but if Roemer has been excluded from the Republican debates, it’s hard to imagine they’d allot a podium to Colbert.
So Colbert’s going to have to find another way in if he’s truly to be an amusingly disruptive force here, and I’m not entirely sure what it’ll be. At least with the Super PAC, there was a very specific policy target to his clowning. Taking on a whole system or a means of thinking is a much harder task, especially when the barriers to entry are so high.