This Thursday, finally, the rampant speculation and parade of exploratory committees will both go on a brief hiatus as we finally get to hear the 2016 Republican presidential candidates on the record for the first time. Live from Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio (#thankslebron), Fox News will bring you election’s first GOP debate, featuring the shining faces of Trump, Bush, Walker, and Huckabee. Uh, hold that, apparently there will be more: Carson, Cruz, and Rubio. That’s all. Wait, no, I take that back. Paul, too. And Christie, and Kasich. Shouts out to the GOP college intern painstakingly checking the spelling on the nametags right now, mouse pointer hovering precariously over the “Print” button.
In an unusual move, Fox News announced well in advance of Thursday’s debate that it planned to invite the top ten polling candidates to participate in the event. This use of an objective criterion is unique because, historically, the major networks like to have discretion over who gets to be in the debates, because retaining that power allows them to filter out novelty candidates who might say the words “President” and “2016” a lot but who do not actually intend to mount anything resembling a serious attempt to run for office. Trusting the invitation list to the whims of that select group of people who sit at home all afternoon, answer their landlines when pollsters call, and are unable to so easily filter out such joke candidates, though, leaves open the possibility for hilarity. And that is what we will get on Thursday night, when serial housing discriminator and purveyor of unconscionably bad ties Donald Trump takes the stage as, somehow, the frontrunner — the frontrunner — for the 2016 Republican nomination. As debate time grew closer over the past few weeks and it became apparent that Trump wasn’t going anywhere, I was actually really excited to see how Fox News would twist the poll numbers to ensure that he somehow wouldn’t be counted as one of the lock participants. Of course, I’m even more excited that Fox couldn’t quite pull that off, and in a related story, I predict that the network is going to be hiring some new statisticians in the very near future.
Much has been written already about just what, exactly, Donald Trump is up to here (the short answer: using the prospect of a political bid to promote the Donald Trump Brand and make sure people still know he exists). But the longer he prattles on in the public eye about things like the inherent raping proclivities of various ethnic groups, the more trouble that actual candidates will have in getting on the record about the issues and, in the process, pitching themselves to prospective voters in any meaningful way. Trump’s mere presence at these debates dictates the pace and flow of the conversation when it forces Jeb and Marco and friends to say things like “You know, perhaps we did give up on that longform original birth certificate too quickly.” Meanwhile, Democrats, are of course the ones who stand to benefit from the resulting circus
Voters are going to have a tough time navigating these decisions, and I’ve written previously in this space about how you should decide to pick a candidate. But even if your mind is made up already, there’s still no reason you can’t get a little enjoyment out of tonight. To wit, I present to you your official Needs Further Review GOP Debate Drinking Game. Please remember to tip your servers.
Pour One Out: The Pre-Debate Debate
Wait, that’s not all! The field for the 2016 Republican nomination is so crowded that Fox is also putting on a sort of undercard debate at 5 PM for the folks who couldn’t quite make the top-ten cutoff. This is more good news to you because some people who really badly would like to be president but found themselves relegated to the late afternoon will likely say some profoundly desperate things in an ultimately fruitless attempt to revive their campaigns and, hopefully, join the big leagues next time. Thus, Fox News’ chosen cutoff won’t actually rob you of the opportunity to see Rick Perry’s hipster glasses, witness Bobby Jindal’s staggering inability to connect with an audience or otherwise demonstrate human empathy, or watch candidates openly start checking their Twitter feeds whenever Carly Fiorina says anything. And thank goodness for that.
However, there’s no need to drink for this one, because you have a job, and this debate is on the early side, and ou have a long night ahead, and you are not a total degenerate. Besides, the candidates’ inevitable Hail Marys notwithstanding, history will (barely) remember this pseudo-debate as the American public’s last real opportunity to see the dying political dreams of its sad, broken participants. Watching this debate will be a little like perusing a garage sale, gawking at things like used stuffed animals and wondering if the proprietors actually think anyone will buy this crap. The Five O’Clock Debaters aren’t going anywhere, and to be honest, they probably know it. But they’re putting on their bravest faces and refusing to go gently into that good night, and you know what, good for them. So pour out a Budweiser (preferably not a Bud Light, because America) as you watch this one; doing so in memory of their shattered life goals and highest aspirations is the least you can do.
One Drink: The Buzzwords
- “Iran,” when it falls within the same sentence as either “dangerous” or “unpredictable,” a qualifier necessary because I don’t want any of you getting hurt
- “Job creators”
- “Founding Fathers”
- “Right to life”
- “Activist judges”
- “ISIS thugs”
- “Sanctity of marriage”
BONUS: one additional drink where two or more obviously unrelated terms somehow fall within the same sentence. For example, “The Founding Fathers would have understood that our response in Benghazi was woefully insufficient to address the sanctity of marriage” would net you three drinks, plus a two-drink multiple-term bonus. Incoherent thoughts are not going to be your friend in the debate.
Two Drinks: The Issues
- Calls for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border (for example, “We need to finally build that wall to secure our borders”)
- Explicit mentions of the Hillary email scandal
- Hasty, profoundly ill-advised commitments to send U.S. troops to fight ISIS
- Poorly researched takes that incorrectly interpret Supreme Court opinions (for example, “I don’t see anything in the Constitution that allows the Supreme Court to enact a federal law that requires states to marry gay people!”)
- Campaign promises that anyone who has ever heard the phrase “separation of powers” knows are facially impossible to keep (for example, “The first acts of the Cruz Administration will be to repeal Obamacare and overturn the gay marriage decision!”)
- Characterizations of Islam, the religion, as a cohesive, insidious movement with an agenda expressly designed to undermine the very foundation upon which this great nation was built
BONUS: one additional drink where a candidate illustrates a point using an anecdote that the candidate’s staffers may or may not have made up the hour before the debate (for example, “I spent a lot of time this week with John, who is married to a woman and has two good Christian children and can’t get a job because of Obamacare, and he is really excited to go fight ISIS” would net you a drink for Obamacare, two drinks for boots on the ground, and a bonus sip for hearing about the nonexistent struggles faced by nonexistent John).
Three Drinks: It’s Really Crowded Up Here
- Someone refers to Rand Paul as Ron Paul
- Someone refers to Jeb as George
- Someone refers to Ben Carson as Hermain Cain
- Someone refers to Marco Rubio as Ted Cruz, or vice versa
- Someone refers to Chris Christie as the Kool-Aid Man
- Someone forgets who John Kasich is
BONUS: pull directly from a handle of whiskey at a wisecrack that goes something like this: “And where does ______ stand on this issue? Oh, that’s right. He only got invited to the [removes sunglasses] five o’clock debate.”
Four Drinks: The Fireworks
- More than three candidates sneer openly and derisively at something Trump says
- Someone disparages the last guy’s comments regarding the need for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and promises to build an even bigger wall (for example, “Governor Walker just suggested that we build a wall to secure our borders, but the real issue here is why he doesn’t support a wall that shoots lasers and bullets and also is covered in lava, the construction of which, I want to be clear, would be the first act of the Huckabee administration”)
- An explicit ethnic slur draws gasps from the crowd
- A candidate cuts off the moderator as another participant uncomfortably tries to make light of it (for example, “Governor Huckabee, we are all excited to talk about the serious dangers posed by the skyrocketing national debt that will result in our great-grandchildren becoming indentured servants to the Chinese, but for goodness’ sake wait your turn and let Marco speak!” [uncomfortable collar tug])
- Any of the Ten Commandments are cited as federal law
- Trump rebuts an actual policy argument by asking the other candidate how many millions they’ve made and/or bad reality television shows they’ve successfully created
BONUS: one additional drink for any comment laced with open scorn for a policy advanced by the Romney-Ryan campaign, AKA those LOSERS.
Finish Your Drink: The “Hold On To Your Butts” Zone
- A candidate struggling to answer a question makes a transparent non sequitur reference to Kenya (for example, “My time as governor of Florida made me acutely aware of the need for uh, ISIS is certainly a threat, and [pregnant pause] obviously Obamacare has made that worse [looks down at cue cards, only there are no cue cards] and also one place I still have never been is Kenya!”)
- A xenophobic immigration-related comment causes Senators Cruz and/or Rubio to become visibly uncomfortable
- A candidate says something absurd that leaves all nine other candidates standing there in stunned silence (for example, just hypothetically, “Who’s doing the raping?”)
- An explicit ethnic slur draws a few scattered cheers from the crowd
- Any reference to the Chris Christie bridge scandal that causes him to overzealously defend these indefensible actions and implode live on national television
- Someone asks why we’re not talking about the real issues here, and by real issues, they mean Sharia creep
- Anyone talks to a chair
- Anything to the effect of “I strongly feel that all lives matter, and that means unborn lives, too” that causes Twitter to spontaneously combust
- A candidate confidently answers a question unaware that their eyebrow is falling off in real time (I miss you, Ron Paul)
BONUS: pour your drink over your head for “binders full of” literally anything; if that happens, it’s a hat tip to those people playing drinking games, and you should respect it as such
Enjoy nuanced political discourse, everyone.