The Official Democratic Debates Drinking Game

The first Democratic Party primary season debates will be held this week. Because there are two debates, it will require an unusual set of official Rolling Stone drinking game rules, listed below.

We thought 17 candidates was a lot last time. Now it’s 23. Or is it 24? By 2024 running for president will be like a game of Fortnite – a Battle Royale of 100 rifle-toting pols in banana suits. That might even work better for television than the arrangement this week, with debates on consecutive nights that will force Rolling Stone readers to take in the Biden-Harris-Sanders-led lineup Thursday night hung over.

It’s not quite an eerie repeat of August 2015, when the Republican field — so packed with candidates that pundits nicknamed it the “Clown Car” — did two debates in one night. The setup was a Trump-and-Bush-led main event preceded by a “kiddie table” debate of low-poll penitents like Bobby Jindal and Jim Gilmore. Watching the early debate was like trying to sit through a warmup act for Poison or Anvil.

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The Democrats, in an effort to less overtly stack the deck against those scrambling in the polls, are running one two-hour debate on Wednesday, and another Thursday. For reasons of fairness and, presumably, ratings, there are high-polling contenders in each debate.

Despite the two-day format, four candidates will be left out: Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam, former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton.

The amusingly large number of candidates is not so amusing to some. Washington Post columnist Colbert King is denouncing “wannabe Democratic nominees” who are “wasting everybody’s time” with fringe campaigns. Apparently, time to think about politics is something we’re already lacking, 13 months before the convention and seven months before the first votes in Iowa. King writes:

“All of the Democratic fuming about staging a political revolution, shaking up the power structure, fighting the fossil fuel industry, taking down Wall Street, busting noses of the corporate elite, launching ground assaults on power and wealth-transforming the country — all that should be given over to building a well-planned and well-staffed presidential campaign apparatus that can support the candidate best able to do something about what’s happening now.”

He goes on to say that this is no time to “humor the ambition of newbies … or to pamper grizzled veterans out for a last hurrah,” adding that the likes of Bill de Blasio and Tulsi Gabbard should just plow their money into organizing in battleground states for the real future candidate, who presumably is neither too old nor too young and doesn’t want to take on Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, or the corporate elite.

“A waste of time” seems an overly harsh characterization of this week’s debates. It may, however, be a waste of sober time.

If #Resistance cable gives you brain bubbles, you may want to take a prophylactic shot or two before hours of repartee moderated by five on-air personalities from the NBC/Universal world, including: Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, Noticias Telemundo host José Diaz-Balart, and MSNBC lead fulminator Rachel Maddow.

Without further ado, the drinking game:

Because of the sheer quantity of candidates, we’re making one set of rules that will apply to both games — many of the rules are theme-based, as you’ll see below. I will be on Twitter at @mtaibbi to solicit crowd advice and make calls on whether or not we’re drinking after ostensible violations.

DEBATE NUMBER ONE

Wednesday, June 26, 9 p.m. EST — Miami, FL

Candidates: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

DEBATE NUMBER TWO

Thursday, June 27, 9 p.m. EST — Miami, FL

Candidates: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet; former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; California Sen. Kamala Harris; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; California Rep. Eric Swalwell; writer and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

THE RULES:

DRINK a thimble of liquor each time Maddow, Todd, or Swalwell mentions Russia or Putin.

DRINK a full shot every time a candidate mentions:

1. “I AM THE CHILD OF IMMIGRANTS…” Meaning, drink if Mayor Pete mentions his dad who immigrated because America was the best place in the world to get an education, if Amy Klobuchar mentions ancestors who arrived with nothing but a suitcase, if Sanders mentions the role model of a father who journeyed across the ocean with nothing in his pocket, if Julian Castro mentions the year 1922 (when his grandmother arrived as a seven-year-old orphan), if Kamala Harris mentions her mother coming from India to study the science of fighting disease, etc.

2. “WHOSE HUMBLE BEGINNINGS…” Drink if Amy Klobuchar mentions her Grandpa the iron ore miner (who worked 1,500 feet underground) saving money in a coffee can, or if Elizabeth Warren mentions her family’s station wagon (double shot if she mentions the stocking feet her mother was in when she decided to save the family house), if Tim Ryan mentions playing little league as a kid from Niles, Ohio, if Eric Swalwell mentions his mom who sold wedding cakes in handmade dollhouses out of the family garage, if Bernie Sanders mentions growing up in a rent-controlled apartment living paycheck-to-paycheck (actually drink if anyone says paycheck-to-paycheck in any context), if Castro mentions the number 68 bus, etc.

3. “WORKING WITH MY SLEEVES ROLLED UP AS AN [INSERT REAL JOB HERE]…” Drink if Swalwell mentions a paper route or serving burritos, Warren mentions waitressing, etc. Buttigieg and Gabbard are in separate debates, so a shot if either says, “As the only veteran on stage…” Double shot if Hickenlooper tells the Randy Marsh story — i.e. I was a geologist in Colorado, but became a brewpub entrepreneur in an abandoned, forgotten part of Denver with the help of a library book. You can skip the next shot if Andrew Yang unapologetically references going to Exeter and Brown and working at Davis Polk.

4. “…WITH THE SUPPORT OF MY BELOVED FAMILY MEMBERS [INSERT NAMES]…” A hot trend in political address is to mention relatives by name, to humanize speakers. So, drink if Swalwell mentions son Nelson and daughter Cricket, Harris mentions parents Donald and Shyamala, Buttigieg mentions Chasten, my love, Beto O’Rourke mentions parents Melissa and Pat or sisters Erin and Charlotte, etc. Double shot if Warren mentions her “Mama.”

5. “…AND MY FAITHFUL [DOG OR CAT]…” Pets are in! Drink if Mayor Pete mentions dogs Buddy and Truman, Warren mentions Golden Retriever Bailey, Hickenlooper mentions his “rescue mutt” Skye, Gillibrand mentions her Goldendoodle Maple, Ryan mentions his two dogs, Bear and Buckeye who are always “flyin’ through the house,” Swalwell mentions his black lab Penny, Biden mentions any of his not-at-all-fascist German Shepards (Major and Champ) etc. Double shot if a candidate mentions a dog-by-proxy, i.e. Booker who has promised to get a dog if elected, or Inslee, who doesn’t have a dog but who has a son with two – Pepper and Tilly.

6. “…TO REALIZE THE AMERICAN DREAM…” Drink if Castro says the American dream shouldn’t be just a dream (and is not a sprint or a marathon but a relay), Klobuchar mentions our shared dream, Swalwell wonders what happened to the promise of the American dream, etc.

7. “…WHICH ARE UNDER ATTACK…” Drink any time any candidate says (pick one) democracy, the free press, the American dream, freedom itself, our voting rights, or our sovereignty is under attack under Donald Trump. Double shot if anyone uses the term existential threat.

8. “…BY A MAN WHO PUTS CHILDREN IN CAGES…” Drink at every mention of the word cages.

9. “… AND HAS FOSTERED A CULTURE OF DIVISION…” Drink when Hickenlooper mentions a canyon of division, Biden mentions the divider-in-chief, Gillbrand mentions the powerful forces trying to sow hate and division, Ryan notes that we stand here today in a divided country, O’Rourke mentions fear and division, Gabbard asks whether we should choose division and blame over love, etc.

10. “…BECAUSE HE’S A [INSERT TRUMP JOKE]…” Drink at any attempt to win the internet with a one-line Trump descriptor. Wall jokes unfortunately included. Double shot if attempt includes the phrase, You’re fired.

11. “…AND IN CLOSING, I SAY [SOMETHING IN SPANISH].” Self-explanatory. Drink.

SIDE-RULES:

Drink if:

  • ANY CANDIDATE laughs at something Rachel Maddow says that isn’t actually funny.
  • BIDEN starts a sentence saying, Look…, uses the word bareknuckle, or mentions working with Barack (or any variation thereof, e.g. when Barack and I…).
  • BIDEN tries to tell a story about reaching across the aisle and makes a dumpster fire out of it.
  • HARRIS or any other candidate lays into BIDEN for said attempt. Automatic drink if the word apology reaches the air.
  • SANDERS mentions greed or does a Bern point. Double shot if he points at a fellow debater.
  • WARREN says she’s got a plan for anything.
  • INSLEE answers a question, any question, without eventually mentioning climate change.
  • GABBARD says Aloha, or mentions a disastrous American war or regime change plan. Take a second shot if by the end of the debate no other candidate has mentioned those same wars.
  • DELANEY says something bitchy about how Medicare-for-All sucks.
  • HICKENLOOPER uses the word heaving, as in, “it feels like we’re in a heaving crisis.” Double shot if he gives Sanders a hard time for being a socialist, and — be your own judge here — triple shot if he compares Sanders to Stalin.
  • RYAN tells the audience, I love you or goes out of his way to remind you he played quarterback in high school.
  • SWALWELL mentions growing up in Scrublin, i.e. Dublin, California, which is so hardscrabble and middle-class that it earned that nickname apparently. Double shot if he mentions gym towels.
  • WILLIAMSON, GABBARD, or YANG has to interrupt someone else’s time to get a word in.
  • Double shot if you find yourself thinking, It’s because these candidates can’t win that they make so much sense.

Stay safe. Drink with a spotter. Try to have a bite of bread between shots.

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