NOVEMBER 8, 2023

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8:01 PM: The debate begins with a more somber tone than previous debates, as the hot dog vendors and T-shirt cannons have been confined to the lobby and bathrooms. The moderators, Lester Holt, Kristen Welker, and Hugh Hewitt explain the rules for the evening: This will be a serious debate, none of that asshole stuff from last time. Invoking a candidate’s name does not mean that person is entitled to a response—no matter what Drake says about rap beefs. Interruptions may result in a loss of additional questions, while repeated interruptions may result in having to spend an hour locked in a room alone with Vivek Ramaswamy (or, in Ramaswamy’s case, with Andrew Yang).

8:03 PM: Lester Holt reminds the audience that all of this is a farce performed by unloved toddlers and that Donald Trump will undoubtedly be the nominee. That said, as long as he’s getting paid for this, Holt figures he might as well ask Ron DeSantis what he’d say to Trump voters. The Florida governor says he’d take the “slings” and “arrows” because he’s not entirely clear what a president actually does. He once saw a painting of Saint Sebastian and has been confused ever since. He then triumphantly opens and closes his mouth, almost as well as the top alien student in an entry-level class on impersonating humans would do.

8:05 PM: Holt asks the same question to Nikki Haley. Haley responds that the country is in a dire place, parents don’t know what’s happening in the classroom, anti-Semitism on college campuses is making the particular group of students that she can exploit for political gain feel unsafe, and Donald Trump was the right president at the right time, but he’s not right for now. The audience cheers. Lester Holt scolds the audience, telling them to shut the hell up or he will turn this debate right around.

8:07 PM: Vivek Ramaswamy, clearly shooting for peak insufferability, says that the GOP has become a party of losers. He criticizes RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel and the “corrupt” media, and says the moderators should have instead been Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and Elon Musk. The audience breaks into wild applause. Holt issues them a second “fuck around and find out” warning. Chris Christie responds by chanting “hardworking” and “American dream” several times, while Tim Scott flips through a Bible and recites some of the more boring passages.

8:12 PM: Holt turns the questioning to the challenges facing the next commander-in-chief, specifically asking what these candidates would be saying to Israeli leadership at this moment. DeSantis answers, “I’d tell Bibi: finish the job.” Haley says, “I’d tell Bibi to finish the job, and then we’d finish Iran.” Ramaswamy says he’d go one step further and tell Bibi to “smoke the terrorists on his southern border, and I’ll smoke the terrorists on our southern border.” Tim Scott flips through the Bible to see if it says anything about smoking and, after seeing no possible problematic sins, agrees that he’d tell Netanyahu “to wipe Hamas off the map.” Ramaswamy clarifies that he does not believe we should add to our debt to fight wars, and that America needs a leader from a different generation unless we want “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels, in which case we’ve got two of them on stage tonight.” Haley rolls her eyes, DeSantis squirms, and Tim Scott yelps, “G-G-GHOSTS?!”

8:37 PM: Via video, Matthew Brooks, CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, asks whether the candidates would authorize American troops to attack Iran. Haley responds that actually her heels are “five inches and they’re not for fashion, they’re for ammunition. ‘AR’ doesn’t stand for automatic rifle; it stands for ‘anklet-rigged.’” She then cocks her right heel. Holt continues the original line of questioning, asking, “How many countries would each candidate invade as president?” Chris Christie pulls out a bag of green army men and lines them up on his lectern, making “pew pew” noises. Haley states that she’s the only one with real international experience and pulls out a game of Risk. DeSantis says that as governor of Florida, he brought back many Floridians from the stronghold of Kamchatka. In fact, he spoke with one father who begged him not to forget the Falkland Islands as a tactical maneuver. Ramaswamy declines to play, stating that it’s time Americans had a president who didn’t play antiquated board games and instead understood where the young people were coming from. Instead of sending kids to war, he says he would send every child to his Ramaswamy-branded Minecraft mines.

9:15 PM: Hugh Hewitt states that many Republicans believe that the Communist Chinese party is an existential threat and asks Haley, “Do we have enough naval ships to deter China?” Haley responds that America needs to modernize our military and that we should be focusing on the latest AI technology to create highly technical and precise lasers trained on K-pop fans and racist Reddit posts.

9:24 PM: In a desperate bid to attract anyone under the age of fifty to even ironically engage with this pointless debate, Hewitt Hewitt says TikTok is evil and asks whether it should be banned. Christie says that it’s polluting the minds of young people, several of whom have posted hurtful dances about him. DeSantis agrees that we should make sure young people’s minds aren’t corrupted by TikTok or by any other harmful influences, like Scholastic Book Fairs or the ability to read and write. Ramaswamy calls out Haley, saying she’s not answering the question about TikTok because her daughter uses it. Haley raises her shoe gun at him. “Leave my daughter out of your voice,” she warns. Christie stares at the ground and does a quiet shuffling side step off stage, Tim Scott ducks behind his podium. DeSantis looks straight ahead, bearing his teeth in the sort of grimace the owner of a chihuahua would call a smile. Holt stares Haley down and then cautions the candidates, “This is Florida, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to shoot each other outside of the debate grounds.”

9:41 PM: Holt asks what each candidate would do to financially help people. Haley responds that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and that’s why on day one, she’d cut the spending in Congress. Christie agrees that young people are freeloaders and should make a dance about it if they’re so upset. He makes a heart shape with his hands and whispers, “Not you donors, though—love you.” DeSantis agrees that we need to help those who are struggling, like a billionaire he knows whose yacht was just destroyed by a communist whale. He says that we need tax cuts for the rich if we want to ensure no one born after 1970 ever gets Social Security benefits. Ramaswamy calls the cutting of benefits ridiculous and reminds the audience that there is a much easier solution: destroying the earth so no one lives long enough to collect benefits. Ron DeSantis nods, pulls an endangered fruit dove out of his breast pocket, attempts to raise his cheeks towards his eyes like the demented half-smile of a broken clown toy, and snaps its neck with his hands.

9:50 PM: Holt says there are many topics they didn’t get to cover, and asks each candidate the one additional thing they would like to address before the debate ends.

TIM SCOTT: There is a crisis growing in our nation and that is cultural and spiritual, we need a great awakening. We need to bring this country back to what the founders intended, a religious theocracy. Amen.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: It’s a gift to be an American. Maybe it’s not what you wanted, but your parents gave it to you, and they expect you to be grateful for it anyway. So show some respect, you ingrates.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: We need a country that gets back to the basics of conspiracy theories. I will shut down the Deep State. I’ll prove we were never on the moon—just look at the flag, there’s no wind there. I’ll also demand the Democratic Party tell us who is actually operating the corpse of Joe Biden. Is it Gavin Newsom? Michelle Obama? Or is it Elvis—who we all know is STILL ALIVE.

NIKKI HALEY: A strong America doesn’t start wars; a strong America prevents wars by starting wars and then finishing the wars we started. I will never tell America there’s no need to stop and/or get a new war, because we already have war at home. I’m not a regular war-monger; I’m a cool war-monger.

RON DESANTIS: I’ll be the man who will fight for your honor. I’ll be the hero you’ve been dreaming of. America will live forever, knowing that, together, we did it all for the glory of love.