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Colbert on the Democratic debate: let the 'humble background games' begin

Stephen Colbert

In a live show following the three-hour Democratic debate, Stephen Colbert picked through a laundry list of potential water-cooler moments, starting with Bernie Sanders’s more gravelley than usual voice.

“Bernie Sanders looks like a man who always carries a lozenge in his pocket,” Colbert said. “Well tonight, it really should have been unwrapped.” In a clip, Sanders’s scratchy voice audibly strained over his shouts about Donald Trump being the most dangerous president in US history – “almost as dangerous as the bumblebee that I swallowed before this debate”, Colbert mimicked as Sanders.

Former vice-president Joe Biden, meanwhile, brought up his ties to Barack Obama, meaning that “for those playing at home – time to take a drink”, joked Colbert as he sipped a whiskey that “really helps you pretend that Obama is still president”.

One of the more contentious moments came when Julián Castro, Obama’s housing and urban development secretary, challenged Biden over his healthcare plans, at one point accusing him of forgetting what he said two minutes prior.

“Oooh, the crowd did not like Julián playing the old man card,” Colbert observed. “I think he should really think twice about his new slogan: ‘Castro 2020: Shove the Elderly Onto an Ice Floe.’ Don’t worry, Julián, it’s not like old people vote.”

Another Texas candidate, former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke, spoke passionately about gun reform. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said. “We’re not going to allow them to be used against your fellow Americans anymore.”

“Damn, Beto went there,” Colbert said. It took courage, “and not just political courage – people in Texas have a lot of guns”.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang talked about his father, an immigrant who “grew up on a peanut farm in Asia with no floor, and now his son is running for president” – a comment that prompted Colbert to launch a faux auction called the “humble background games”. “Can anyone here tonight beat no floor, peanut farm?” Colbert said. “The bidding starts at slept in a bucket behind a cockfight.”

After three hours soundbites, carefully crafted background stories, Biden gaffes, Colbert had to ask: “What did we get? Ten candidates, four moderators, three hours, two languages and hopefully one person who can beat Donald Trump.”

Trevor Noah

On The Daily Show, Trevor Noah reacted to many of the same moments from Thursday’s Democratic debate. “Bernie with a diminished voice is just not the same, man,” said Noah on Sanders’s uncleared throat. “It’s like Luke Skywalker but with a butter knife.”

Most of the candidates seemed to be on the same page with gun reform. O’Rourke, whose home town faced a deadly mass shooting just a month ago, came out particularly strong with a promise to require assault weapon buy-backs. The promise was “a ballsy statement”, said Noah. “And he said it with such confidence as well – which is not the way I’d talk about taking away assault rifles from people who like to shoot.”

The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow)

At the third round of 2020 Democratic debates in Houston, the moderators play hardball, Andrew Yang plays Oprah, and Castro comes after Biden.

On immigration, the candidates discussed how they plan to undo Trump’s policies – a platform Noah described as “no more kids in cages, increased legal immigration, give everyone free ladders to climb over the wall”.

Biden was asked point-blank if he thought Obama’s immigration policies, under which 3 million people were deported, were a mistake. “The president did the best thing that was able to be done at the time,” Biden replied. When the moderator countered “What about you?” Biden shifted responsibility with: “I’m the vice-president of the United States.”

“That was not a good look for Biden,” Noah commented, “because this always happens, right? When Obama’s being praised, Biden jumps into the picture with him, but then when Obama’s being criticized Biden’s like, look man, I was the vice-president – I didn’t do shit.”

Jimmy Kimmel

The Democratic debate featured 10 candidates, “all of whom tried to stand out and avoid being eliminated under extreme time pressure in a televised event that was in no way at all like a gameshow,” said Jimmy Kimmel, because, as he noted: “This is democracy – it’s very serious. Now let’s put 45 seconds on the clock and go.”

For starters, “Bernie made a strong argument tonight for giving every American access to affordable throat lozenges,” joked Kimmel, who likened Sanders’s scratchy tirades against American healthcare spending to keeping “his turn signal on for an hour and a half”.

Kimmel then turned to Yang, who promised to give his “freedom dividend” of $1,000 a month for a year to 10 random families who signed up on his website. “That might be the most ridiculous proposal I’ve ever seen on this network, and I’ve watched every episode of The Bachelorette,” Kimmel said.

All in all, Kimmel concluded, “I don’t know who ‘won’ the debate, but watching candidates discuss the issues using real facts – I’ve forgotten what it was like. It was like walking out of North Korea and into a Costco.”

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