Stephen Colbert and Ted Cruz fought over same-sex marriage and whether President Ronald Reagan would have a place in today's Republican Party during a tense interview Monday night on Colbert's "Late Show." And the exchange brought to light what Cruz really means when he talks about adhering to the Constitution.
Colbert had to ask his audience to stop booing when Cruz began to explain his view that voters at the state level, and not Supreme Court justices at the federal level, should have dominion over whether same-sex marriage is legal. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court overturned state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage on the grounds that they violated clauses of the 14th amendment that protect citizens' rights to equal protection and due process.
Colbert noted that the Constitution is silent on marriage, and Cruz used that to argue that powers not expressly granted to the federal government are reserved to the states under the 10th amendment. He did not mention the subsequent 14th amendment, but concluded that "the way the Constitution was designed" is such that "if you want to win an issue, go to the ballot box and win at the ballot box."
Cruz had said earlier that "follow the Constitution" is one of the principles he's fighting for in his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. So, what he's really talking about when he says that, is that he wants to follow the parts of the Constitution with which he agrees. For example, he seems to be unimpressed with Article III, which established the Supreme Court and at least some of the interpretations of the 14th amendment, which has been used to protect minorities from discriminatory state laws, to prohibit state bans on abortion and now to ensure the right for same-sex couples to marry.
On Reagan, Colbert noted that the president Republicans most cite as their political role model actually favored an amnesty program for illegal immigrants and some tax increases. Colbert asked if Cruz could support those policies. Here's what Cruz said:
No, of course not. But Ronald Reagan also signed the largest tax cut in history, he reduced government regulations from Washington, and economic growth exploded. When Reagan came in, from 1978 to 1982, economic growth averaged less than 1 percent a year. There’s only one other four-year period where that’s true. That’s true from 2008 to 2012. What Reagan did: He cut taxes, he cut regulations, he unchained small businesses and economic growth boomed. Millions of people were lifted out of poverty into prosperity and the middle class.
That's an odd comparison, given that Reagan was president for two of the years Cruz cited, 1981 and 1982. Either George W. Bush should be blamed for the poor growth numbers at the beginning of Obama's term or Jimmy Carter shouldn't be blamed for the bad economy in the first two years of the Reagan administration. And Colbert noted that Reagan was willing to compromise.
"But when conditions changed in the country he reversed his world’s-largest-tax-cut and raised taxes when revenues did not match the expectations," he countered.
In one of the lighter moments of the interview, Colbert asked Cruz what Donald Trump should be asked during an interview on the show Tuesday night.
"If you could ask him if he could possibly consider donating $1 billion to our campaign," Cruz replied to laughter.
Here's a rough transcript of the Reagan and same-sex marriage parts of the interview:
COLBERT: Let me ask about Reagan for a second. Democrats and Republicans have had reasons why they like Ronald Reagan. But does today’s modern Republican Party reflect some of the things Reagan did? Reagan raised taxes. Reagan actually had an amnesty program for illegal immigrants. Neither of those things would allow Reagan to be nominated today. So, to what level can you truly emulate Ronald Reagan? Isn’t that from a period of time when he was willing to work with Tip O’Neill across the aisle to get stuff done. Isn’t that what people want more than anything else, not just principles but action?
CRUZ: Well, I’ll tell you number one, as I travel the country. I haven’t seen anyone saying the thing we want from Republicans is to give in more to Barack Obama and the direction we’re going. I don’t hear that across the country.
COLBERT: But are those aspects of Reagan something you could agree with? Raising taxes and amnesty for illegal immigrants?
CRUZ: Ronald Reagan
COLBERT: Could you agree with Reagan on those two things?
CRUZ: No, of course not. But Ronald Reagan also signed the largest tax cut in history, he reduced government regulations from Washington, and economic growth exploded. When Reagan came in, from 1978 to 1982, economic growth averaged less than 1 percent a year. There’s only one other four-year period where that’s true. That’s true from 2008 to 2012. What Reagan did: He cut taxes, he cut regulations, he unchained small businesses and economic growth boomed. Millions of people were lifted out of poverty into prosperity and the middle class.
COLBERT: But when conditions changed in the country he reversed his world’s-largest-tax-cut and raised taxes when revenues did not match the expectations. So it’s a matter of compromising. Will you be willing to compromise with the other side? It’s entirely possible that your plan might be the right one. If it turns out not to be the right one, would you be willing to compromise with the other side, change your mind, do something the other side wants and not feel like you capitulated with the devil?
CRUZ: My attitude
COLBERT: Is it possible? Because you’re a religious man. You’re a religious man, and I dabble. Would you believe it’s important not to call the other side the devil?
CRUZ: Absolutely. There’s nothing diabolical about you.
COLBERT: What about your opponents politically. Are they diabolical?
CRUZ: Of course not. In fact, my response in politics is when others throw rocks and insult, I don’t respond in kind. And that’s true of both Republicans or Democrats. When others attack me, I make a point of keeping the focus on substance, keeping the focus on how do we turn this country around? People are fed up. What they want is jobs and economic growth. And you know, you mentioned before, you know you said "Cruz, you’re a very conservative guy." Listen, what I’m fighting for are simple principles: Live within our means, stop bankrupting our kids and grandkids, follow the Constitution.
COLBERT: And no gay marriage. (applause) And no gay marriage?
CRUZ: No, actually let’s be precise. Under the Constitution, marriage is a question for the states. If you want to change the marriage laws …
COLBERT: It doesn’t mention marriage in the Constitution.
CRUZ: We have had a country for over 200 years.
COLBERT: You may be right. You may be right. But it doesn’t mention marriage in the Constitution.
CRUZ: And that’s exactly why it’s a question for the states. Because the 10th amendment says if it doesn’t mention it, it’s a question for the states. That’s in the Bill of Rights. Everything that is not mentioned is left to the states. So, if you want to change the marriage laws.
COLBERT: I’m asking what you want.
CRUZ: I believe in democracy. I believe in democracy, and I don’t think (boos)
COLBERT: Guys, guys. However you feel, he’s my guest. So, please don’t boo him.
CRUZ: I don’t think we should entrust governing our society to five unelected lawyers in Washington. Why would you possibly hand over the rights of 320 million Americans to five lawyers in Washington to say we’re going to decide the rules that govern you? If you want to win an issue, go to the ballot box and win at the ballot box. That’s the way the Constitution was designed.