9:00 PM: Lester Holt welcomes the candidates and asks everyone to respect the rules of the debate and to leave all weapons backstage. California Representative Eric Swalwell reluctantly gives up his slingshot. Author Marianne Williamson writes LOVE on a piece of paper and hands it to a stagehand to keep safe.
9:02 PM: Moderator Savannah Guthrie begins the evening by asking Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, under his proposals of free healthcare and free education, would taxes increase for the middle class? Sanders replies by pulling out a 1970s tape recorder and hitting play on a recording of himself talking about millionaires and billionaires. He fast forwards to a relevant section, but instead it just plays the entire speech at double speed.
9:04 PM: Guthrie asks Vice President Biden about his comment that we shouldn’t demonize the rich. In response, Biden says he met the Devil one time and while they didn’t agree on everything, he was actually a “pretty nice guy.” They even shared an ice cream.
9:06 PM: Former Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper says that if we tell Republicans we’re not socialists, they’ll stop calling us socialists, and also that Mitch McConnell told him personally that if your hand is bigger than your face you have cancer. Mitch said he’d help him figure it out after the debate.
9:08 PM: In response to the question of socialism, New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand is quick to draw a distinction between capitalism and evil-twin capitalism. Colorado Senator Michael Bennet interrupts to say Bernie Sanders is bad. Gillibrand interrupts him to say she herself is good. Mayor Pete Buttigieg interrupts her to say interrupting is impolite. Hickenlooper interrupts him to say socialism gave him a wedgie in 6th grade. Marianne Williamson interrupts him to say, “Dahhling hot yoga will erase memories of systematic economic bullying.” Swalwell interrupts her to say “eat my shorts” and then moons the audience.
9:15 PM: Venture capitalist Andrew Yang is asked about his plan to give all adults $1000 month. In response, he points to his lack of a tie and explains it’s a value-added tax. He says it’s very simple and proceeds to recite pi to the 21st digit. Eight men in the audience loudly cheer.
9:17 PM: Swalwell relates how, when he was a child, he heard a politician say it was time to pass the torch of leadership to the next generation. Chris Harrison walks on stage and hands Swalwell a single rose. Swalwell walks to the space between Biden and Sanders, while other candidates spontaneously start a drumroll on their lecterns. Swalwell continues, “and that politician was…. JOE BIDEN!” Biden accepts the rose before complaining that he thought Swalwell said he was going to get a torch, which is better than a rose because torches ward off predators, and he’s tired of making himself look big. Sanders interrupts to say he did not like the part where it could have been him. Biden interrupts to say, “I can also yell. TORCH!” Swalwell interrupts to say this is like that scene from Anchorman, “I don’t know why we’re yelling,” ha-ha-ha. Buttigieg interrupts to say he saw Anchorman in Norwegian. Gillibrand interrupts to say women have an equal right to interrupt. Sanders interrupts to say he supports a women’s right to interrupt. California Senator Kamala Harris tilts her head back, slowly opens her mouth, and shoots a beam of blinding light from her parted lips, which fills the room in a flash with awed silence. She tilts her head back down and calmly says that no one in America should have to work more than one job to care for their family.
9:20: Turning to healthcare, the candidates are asked to raise their hands if they support getting rid of private health insurance. Sanders and Harris raise their hands, though Harris quickly puts hers down. Biden half raises his hand but seems to be gesturing for the waitress to refill an imaginary drink he is pretending to hold.
9:39 PM: In response to a question about ICE, Marianne Williamson replies that she is a little bunny rabbit now, hop hop hop.
10:03 PM: Heated discussions between the candidates lead into a conversation on race. Kamala Harris notes she is the only person of color on stage and turns to Biden to point out his history of working with segregationists and opposing federal busing. Biden responds that he has a black friend — “Maybe you’ve heard of him?” As Harris describes her childhood experience of busing, a sinkhole opens on the stage directly under Biden’s lectern. He yelps and flails as he falls into the pit, but the struggle only hastens the hole’s expansion. The other candidates look away and Marianne Williamson plugs her ears. Harris finishes speaking as the dust rises from the collapsed ground where Biden once stood catches the stage lights, sparkling, and for a moment, there is magic.
9:58 PM: The MSNBC moderators switch shifts. As she enters, Rachel Maddow flips the lights on and off and tells everyone to pay attention and shut up because she is not afraid to kick anyone out of class, she’ll do it so fast — don’t test her.
10:10 PM: The issue of reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans is raised. A voice from somewhere in the walls that sounds like Biden echoes, “We can work with Republicans.” Several candidates snicker. MSNBC tech team tries to figure out how his mic is still working.
10:18 PM: Rachel Maddow moves the discussion to climate change, demanding that Hickenlooper explain what is wrong with him. Honestly, what the hell is wrong with him, just, what the fuck? Hickenlooper solemnly explains that socialism cut him off in traffic once.
10:22 PM: Chuck Todd holds up a mirror and gives a soliloquy on what he ate for breakfast and why it fascinates him so. He then asks each candidate, if they became president, what is the one issue they would tackle first?
SWALWELL: “Gun violence.”
BENNET: “Climate change.”
GILLIBRAND: “Paid family leave.”
HARRIS: “Everything, literally everything, just whatever all the others said and also what you’re thinking right now. I also know what you should have for dinner and I’ve created sensible meal plans tailored to all your individual needs.”
SANDERS: (folds his arms and shakes his head)
BIDEN: “Tell Obama I love him and also go back in time and defeat Trump.”
BUTTIGIEG: “I’m smart.”
YANG: (makes it rain with thousand-dollar bills)
HICKENLOOPER: “Ask oil companies what they want to do.”
WILLIAMSON: “I would fight New Zealand.”
10:34 PM: The debate turns to the issue of gun violence. Swalwell states he doesn’t believe dangerous people should have guns. Bernie agrees. Swalwell hasn’t had a chance to yell in a bit so he yells. Other people yell too. Some people in the audience are maybe yelling or perhaps a small pig is loose in the theatre. Most viewers have already muted their TVs.
10:48 PM: Candidates give their closing statements.
SWALWELL: “I’m a baby.”
WILLIAMSON: “I will love you to death, Donald Trump.”
BENNET: “Not sure if you noticed, but there’s always a lemon or something I’m sort of sucking in my mouth. Sorry about that.”
HICKENLOOPER: (flies a banner plane through the auditorium that reads SOCIALISM SUX)
GILLIBRAND: (throws down a whiskey glass and picks up one the shards) “I will fight for you.”
YANG: (left the debate a while back, tries to Facetime in but the reception goes out)
HARRIS: “I can probably lift a car, doesn’t even have to be a baby trapped underneath, I’ll do it right now.”
BUTTIGIEG: “Please tell me I’m smart.”
SANDERS: “Wall Street, universal healthcare, no to fossil fuel, everyone just shut up.”
BIDEN (from somewhere under the moderators’ chairs) “Trump is the only president who’s embraced white supremacists as decent people, but that’s just because I’ve only been vice president, and now I’m going to get louder and point. God bless us, everyone.”