Vote One Colbert?

16 January 2012

Written by: Erdem Koc

In the Republican race for candidacy, all roads lead to South Carolina.

The South Carolina Primary is arguably the most important stop on the road to the White House for Republicans.

In fact, since its introduction in 1980 to the most recent primary in 2008, every Republican winner of the state has gone on to win the party nomination.

With that in mind, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorium and Rick Perry will all have January 21 highlighted as the decisive moment in their campaign.

So too, it appears, does Stephen Colbert.

Colbert, the controversial host of the satirical, Fox News parodical The Colbert Report and South Carolina native, has gone from a support act on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to a legitimate political voice in the United States.

Even if it is a voice with a tremendous deal of tongue in cheek.

While it would be easy to classify much of Colbert’s program as an exaggeration designed for comedic effect, his political understanding and influence cannot be dismissed.

Colbert has been heavily critical of the Republican candidates throughout the primary process, especially front-runner Mitt Romney. Such is his level of dissatisfaction with the candidates, the South Carolinian has long hinted to fans at the prospect of lodging a write-in bid in his home state.

On Thursday evening’s Report, Colbert stopped hinting and adopted a ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ mentality.

Buoyed by projected results from the upcoming South Carolina primary – that actually forecast he would receive five per cent of the vote – Colbert announced that he would be exploring the possibility of entering the race for the Republican candidacy.

However, this is far from Colbert’s first expedition into the actually political scene, rather than just being an outside commentator.

In fact, it is a continuation of his scathing attack on one of the most ludicrous pieces of legislation to ever grace the American political scene.

In June 2011, Colbert appeared before Federal Election Commission, and was granted permission to form a ‘Super PAC’.

A Super PAC is an extension of a traditional PAC (Political Action Committee), which is free of many of the restrictions in place on a PAC.

The main difference being that a Super PAC can raise and spend an unlimited amounts of funds to support a candidate, and also attack others.

However, regulations stipulate that Super PAC must be legally independent and avoid co-ordination with a candidate, which is where Colbert’s real critique of the system lies.

Colbert legally signed over control of his Super PAC to Comedy Central cohort Jon Stewart, and in the process accentuated the laughable flaws in the legislation.

Trevor Potter, Colbert’s lawyer and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, played the role of straight man for the two political commentators, answering their carefully crafted questions about the system.

Potter outlined the legality behind Colbert being unable to run the Super PAC, although he could ‘have it run by somebody else,’ even a friend or business partner – illuminating what critics say is an inappropriate loophole in the law.

Potter also told the duo ‘being business partners does not count as coordination, legally’ drawing a raft of disapproving sighs from the audience.

With his announcement of plans to enter the Republican race – and subsequent dressing-down of the Super PAC system – Colbert once again proved that, although he may differ from the traditional means of political coverage, he is undoubtedly one of the leading commentators in the United States.

Liam Quinn is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University, who is currently on exchange at Michigan State.  He is covering the 2012 US presidential elections for upstart.  You can follow him on Twitter: @liamquinn23