Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz paid a visit to Stephen Colbert's two-week-old "Late Show" set last night and sat for a grilling over the legacy of conservative icon Ronald Reagan tougher than any question the Texas senator fielded at last week's debate at Reagan's presidential library.
"Let me ask about Reagan for a second," Colbert began before getting serious and noting the severe ideological divide between Ronald Reagan and today's Republican Party. “Reagan raised taxes, OK. 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?” Colbert asked Cruz, noting that Reagan worked with former Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill.
"Isn't that what people want more than anything else," Colbert questioned, "more than principles, is action?"
Cruz disagreed, claiming that he's never heard from an American who has asked him to work more with President Obama, or "give in more to Barack Obama" as he put it.
"Could you agree with Reagan on those two things," Colbert pressed as the crowd broke out in raucous applause, "raising taxes and amnesty for illegal immigrants?"
"No, of course not," Cruz replied. "But Ronald Reagan also signed the largest tax cut in history," Cruz pushed back defiantly. "He reduced government regulations from Washington and economic growth exploded."
"He did," Colbert conceded as Cruz continued. Noting that from 1978 to 1982, economic growth averaged less than 1 percent a year, Cruz argued that the true legacy of Reagan was limited government.
"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," Colbert recalled.
"It's entirely possible that your plan might be the right one," Colbert offered before asking Cruz if he'd be willing to compromise with his opponents if it turns out he doesn't have the best solution "and not feel like you capitulated with the devil?"
Cruz joked to Colbert that there is "nothing diabolical about you" and insisted he doesn't "respond in kind" when his opponents "throw rocks and insults."
"When others attack me, I make of point of keeping it on substance," Cruz argued. Cruz said he is merely fighting for the U.S. to "live within our means, stop bankrupting our kids and grandkids, and follow the Constitution."
"And no gay marriage," Colbert quickly added, opening the door for a debate on the Supreme Court decision with the former SCOTUS clerk.
"Well, actually, let’s be precise. Under the Constitution marriage is a question for the states," Cruz retorted.
"It doesn't mention marriage in the Constitution," Colbert shot back to applause.
"The 10th Amendment states that if the Constitution doesn't mention it, it's a question for the states ... I don't think we should entrust governing our society to five unelected lawyers in Washington," Cruz argued as Colbert's audience began to boo the senator.
“Guys, however you feel, he's my guest so please don't boo him," Colbert interjected.
"If you want to win an issue, go to the ballot box and win at the ballot box," Cruz calmly concluded. "That's the way the Constitution was designed."
Republican front-runner Donald Trump will receive the Colbert treatment on Tuesday's show.
Watch Cruz's debate with Colbert below, via The Late Show: