How to watch tonight’s debate

First up today, let’s talk about HOW TO WATCH the debate tonight. It starts at 8pm Eastern time and runs for three hours, through 11pm Eastern. For our overseas listeners, that is actually zero hours UTC on Friday. So. Set an alarm or something.

Now, the debate will physically occur in Houston, Texas. It will be at Texas Southern University, and all tickets are sold out. So, unless you’ve got one, you’re watching from home. How do we do that? Lots of great options. The debate is hosted by ABC, and let me read here the list of places you can watch it:

ABC broadcast TV stations, Univision with live Spanish translation, ABC News Live, ABCNews.com, Hulu Live, The Roku Channel, Facebook Watch, YouTube, Twitter, and the ABC apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and Android.

So, basically, all the places you can get ABC via any mechanism. These should be available without a login during the event, and if you want my advice, I’d try YouTube, given that they’re quite good at providing big streams to lots of people. Also, don’t forget that if you have just a regular TV and an antenna and are near an ABC affiliate, that does work too.

While you’re watching, the order of candidates from left to right is as follows:

Klobuchar

Booker

Buttigieg

Sanders

Biden

Warren

Harris

Yang

O’Rourke, and

Castro

The format of the debate will be similar to previous debates, with slightly longer response times. Candidate responses can be one minute and fifteen seconds long, with 45 second rebuttals, and we can expect to see many rounds of rebuttal given the long run-time and the mix of candidates onstage.

And that is all you need to know right know about how to watch these debates. Stick around for the end of the show for more on Debate Bingo.

What to watch for during the debate

Next up, some actual content about what might happen during the debate. There’s a bunch of stuff you might pay attention to, because this is a new thing. We have not yet had a single-night debate in this primary, so that by itself creates a new dynamic. My assumption there is that this will lead to more direct call-outs of the frontrunners because they are ALL there to respond. There are no tactical problems this time with somebody not being on YOUR stage, so you can’t go after some specific policy dispute.

The biggest of these expected clashes is former Vice President Joe Biden vs. Senator Elizabeth Warren. They have not yet been on a debate stage together, and they are, as several media outlets have put it, “frenemies.” The two have a long history together related to bankruptcy legislation in the Senate, and some of their core policies are in direct opposition. When Biden swore in Warren as a Senator in 2013, he said to her, “You gave me hell.” Now, that was gentle ribbing, and it referred to their differences back in 2005 related to a bankruptcy bill that Biden supported and Warren vehemently opposed. In that case, Warren did laugh, but, yeah, she gave him hell and there’s every reason to expect she will do so tonight. She probably won’t yell at him, but she will call attention to their differences.

So that is the number one thing to watch for: Warren versus Biden on specific issues related to banks, health care, Social Security, and whether centrism is really what American voters want right now.

Okay, what else? Well, this is a weird one, but I guess worth mentioning. Yesterday on Twitter, MSNBC reporter Sam Stein wrote:

“Andrew Yang’s campaign manager just called to tell me that at tomorrow night’s debate, Yang will be doing "something no presidential candidate has ever done before in history.” He declined to go further than that.”

The speculation related to this has been intense, and I have no inside info, but the prevailing theory has to do with what he’ll wear. While I generally avoid talking about candidates’ wardrobe in general, if Yang wants to make it an issue, okay, cool.

So the next big thing to watch for will be the flipside of the first point I made—basically, that Biden is intentionally targeting Warren. Reading here from a roundup by Ed Kilgore in New York Magazine:

“This week [Biden’s] staff made a point of letting reporters know he planned to take Warren down a peg by criticizing all her “plans” as unrealistic. Given all the expectations surrounding this first [direct] encounter between Biden and Warren, such telegraphing has whetted appetites for intraparty blood-letting, so the veep needs to deliver.”

END QUOTE, and, um, yuck? I guess?

I actually expect some of Biden’s rhetoric to target both Warren AND Sanders, because so many of their policies match up, and they will stand on either side of him. Plus, they are the top three in the polls right now, so they might as well argue the issues together.

All right, what else have we got? Well, Sanders, of course. He’s polling very well, and he has consistently done well in these debates. I think his best argument right now is that he has a firm base of support, he is seen as electable, and he has a lot of policy overlap with Warren. If I had to speculate on the SPECIFICS of what we’ll see from Sanders tonight, my speculation is that he will try to appear less loud. One of the critiques of Sanders is that he either IS or APPEARS TO BE angry a lot of the time, and believe me, I think there is a lot to be angry about in American politics right now. But when Sanders gets quiet—when he gets down to his person-to-person talking mode—I think he can be just as effective as when he’s going for fire and fury. I would watch for Quiet Sanders.

Next up, Harris will talk about criminal justice reform. Harris is going to try to reset the narrative around what’s up with her campaign. The narrative right now is that she had this big polling bump when she went after Biden, then that faded, and her most recent debate performance wasn’t spectacular. So the logical thing to do would be to do something spectacular—like another rehearsed zinger aimed at somebody in the top three—and given her recent release of a massive criminal justice reform plan, I’d expect her to tackle that issue specifically.

The last big thing to watch for is the Texans talking about what’s going on lately in Texas. By that, of course, we’re talking about Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke. They are both positioned to talk about recent gun violence and their plans to counter future gun violence. O’Rourke has obviously gotten the majority of the attention for this, in part because he’s actually from El Paso, but also because he has radically pivoted his campaign after the massacre in his home town. Expect O’Rourke to call for aggressive gun safety measures, including mandatory buybacks for assault weapons. But I think we shouldn’t forget about Castro here in terms of the Texas angle on this issue. The debate is in Houston. The people AT THAT DEBATE are probably mostly from Houston. Texas has recently seen a terrifying set of mass shootings, and Castro is the other Texan in the race. I don’t have any predictions for how specifically Castro will take that on, but he has done very well in previous debates, without getting much of a polling bump afterward. So I’d expect him to go a little more aggressive this time, and I am curious how he’s going to interact with an actual Texas crowd.

And last up, we’ve also got Booker, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, all of whom will do something, but I’m not really certain WHAT. Klobuchar is in an interesting position here to be a relatively moderate force on the stage in the absence of people like Delaney and Hickenlooper. Klobuchar could use some mixture of wit and her aggressive hundred-day plan to stand out among this crowd.

As for Booker and Buttigieg, I have no real predictions. We’ve gotta see what they do, and that by itself is something to watch for. One big question there is whether either of them will go on the attack against anybody else. I really don’t know. But given that I expect a lot of attacking in this thing, it’s a fair bet.

So, those are my predictions, and we’ll see very soon whether I got close.

Warren’s latest plan happens to target Biden

Today, Senator Elizabeth Warren released a new plan with a simple title: “Expanding Social Security.” In it, she lays out a series of problems and solutions for the program. I can summarize those by saying, people rely on it for their retirement, its trust fund is dwindling, and this is only going to get worse. So she proposes to fix it now.

In the plan, the big headline is that Warren would immediately raise benefits by $200 dollars per month for everybody—all current and future beneficiaries of the system. That makes a massive difference for people who rely on the program for a big chunk—or ALL—of their income. Warren would also change a bunch of rules within the program, and we’ll get to that part in a moment. Beyond the $200 dollar a month thing, Warren would also have the program change its cost-of-living increases to use a more accurate metric that reflects what people who use the program are actually buying.

Warren proposes to pay for this change by reforming the tax code. Right now, there’s a cap on how much of your income is actually subject to taxation for Social Security, and Warren would raise that cap. She targets the top 2% of wage earners to be affected by this change. She would also close a variety of loopholes that let wealthy people claim incoming money as investment income, and therefore not wages, so it normally wouldn’t be taxed for Social Security at all. With this change, no more loopholes for you, and that’s where some potential fireworks TONIGHT might come from.

You may recall that way back on July 11th on this show, I talked about a candidate who uses a tax loophole commonly referred to as the Gingrich-Edwards loophole. Using that system, a person or a couple can create an S-Corporation, funnel a bunch of their income into that corporation, and then take that income as what’s called a distribution rather than wages. So, you know, you pay a lot less in tax. And guess which candidate actively uses this loophole? Yep, it’s Biden. Reading from my script in early July:

“...The issue here is that Biden is using a well-known tax loophole that his own administration tried to get rid of. It’s sometimes called the “Gingrich-Edwards loophole,” referring to Newt Gingrich and John Edwards, who used the same approach. And it’s perfectly legal, but a lot of people don’t use it. For instance, Senators Sanders and Warren do pay regular self-employment tax on their book and speech income. The same is true of President Obama and Secretary Clinton.
In a statement, the [Biden] campaign characterized the S-Corporations as a, QUOTE, “common method for taxpayers who have outside sources of income to consolidate their earnings and expenses.” END QUOTE. This is true. Some folks use that structure, and some don’t. What makes it notable for Biden is that his administration explicitly called this loophole out and tried to get rid of it…and then right after leaving office, Biden used it.” END QUOTE.

Part of Warren’s plan would eliminate this loophole to pay for the increased benefits. I wonder if that might come up tonight. Hmm. And by the way, credit to David Dayen of The American Prospect for pointing this out.

Last call for Debate Bingo

Last up today, a bit more on Debate Bingo. Again, you can grab those bingo cards using the top link in the show notes, or just go to ridehome dot info slash bingo. After a bunch of requests yesterday, I increased the number of cards to THIRTY, because apparently a lot of y’all are going to much bigger parties than in previous months.

Again, a few quick tips on Debate Bingo. First, when you print these cards out, print them SINGLE SIDED, because you can’t really work the back side while the front side is showing.

Second, you can pick whatever card you want. They are randomized, so if you’re hanging out alone at home, you can do Card A or Card Q or whatever. If you’re with somebody who’s doing this for the first time and you’re not super-competitive, you might even do the SAME card, to make sure folks catch each thing as it happens. Now of course, you have to share the bingo glory, but that might be nice too.

Third, I will announce official rulings from the @ElectionRideHome Twitter account tonight during the debate. Meaning, when I determine that a square deserves to be filled in, I will say so. I will also tag those tweets with the hashtag ERHbingo. If you spot something that I miss, tweet at me! Same with questions—if you think something is debatable or close, just tweet it out and a ruling will occur. And, as always, toward the end of the night, things tend to get messy, and there are often bingo squares crossed off in the candidates’ closing statements. So, remain vigilant.

Fourth, if you’re tweeting about bingo, please use the hashtag #ERHbingo so we can all see it. It’s been fun in previous debates seeing pictures of your cards and your pets and your parties and, frankly, your beverages of choice during this three-hour marathon.

Fifth and finally, don’t take it too seriously. If it’s distracting you from actually hearing what’s being said, put it away! Also, if you want to have house rules—like some of reward for a bingo, or whatever, you do that. Your rules are better than mine, and you know best how to watch a debate for yourself. The point here is to try to figure out who you think would make a great president. The point here is NOT to get the most points at bingo.

Okay, grab those cards—top link in the show notes—print them, and we will do this together in just a few hours.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Debate HQ is up and running. We’ve got screens, we’ve got cats, we’ve got papers, we’ve got pencils, and we’ve got Twitters. We’re all set and ready. I’m gonna keep this ending short, so I can get this show out the door before the debate begins so people can actually hear it. Tomorrow, tune in for a big wrap-up and Monday I might have a cool surprise for you. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.