After two blockbuster, ratings-record-smashing, Trump-dominated GOP debates, it was no surprise that CNN (which hosted the second one) pulled out all the stops for last night’s Democratic counterpart. They booked the Wynn Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, which made the run-up feel even more like a boxing matchup than the GOP promos the network ran last month. Would Clinton-Sanders be the next Foreman-Ali? Anyone invested in the debate’s ratings certainly wanted us to think so.
As it turned out, they got their wish…kind of. The Dem showdown, while not coming close to the GOP debates’ staggering numbers—25 million and 23 million for the Fox News and CNN versions, respectively—still managed a respectable 15.3 million. That works out to be about 11% of the U.S. viewing audience, and far outpaced any previous Democratic primary debate; the previous champ was the first Obama-Clinton debate from 2008, which brought in about 10.7 million viewers. However, for all of the network promotion, the event itself was noticeably less draped in pageantry then either of the GOP debates. Beyond a dizzying amount of CNN logo branding around the hall and on the backdrop screens, the debate was largely indistinguishable from those in the past few election cycles. (Unless you watched it in VR.)
That’s fine, though. Debates aren’t about holograms and airplane backdrops; they’re about memes. And while last night felt like a formality—it was essentially a one-on-one dressed up like a five-person shootout—it gave us no shortage of hashtags, GIFs, and macros. So thank you, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton: You came, you spoke, and you gave us enough to keep Tumblr and Twitter happy for at least 48 hours. Well, maybe 24. Or 12. We’ll see—we’re a fickle bunch.
You Got Servered
As expected, the issue of Hillary Clinton’s private email server came up last night—courtesy of Lincoln Chafee. When Anderson Cooper offered her a response, though, she deaded the idea with the economy one might expect.
Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Care About Hillary’s Email Server
Bernie Sanders is no Lincoln Chafee, though. Not only did his cranky over-it-ness earn him thunderous applause and a handshake from a relieved Clinton, but it snared his campaign the most popular debate-related tweet of any candidate last night.
asked the candidates to name the enemy they were most proud of having made, most answers were simple. Lincoln Chafee said the coal lobby; Martin O’Malley said the NRA. Not Jim Webb, though! The Vietnam veteran named the VC soldier who’d lobbed a grenade at him…but wasn’t around anymore. Twitter, not surprisingly, had a field day.
Don’t Take Lincoln Chafee For Granite
Poor, gentle, Lincoln Chafee wants you to know that he has CONVICTIONS. That he is GROUNDED. That he is a GIANT BLOCK OF MINERAL. This, as you might think, was prime Internet fodder.
For the three candidates who didn’t get too much time in the spotlight, the debate wasn’t all that fun. Jim Webb made his displeasure clear by giving Anderson Cooper a, uh, stern talking-to. Just be glad you’re not facing off against Webb in the ’Nam, Coop.
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Hillary = Beyoncé
In a post-debate discussion on CNN, former Obama administration staffer Van Jones noted that Clinton’s performance—like the pop queen herself—was “flawless.” When you see Hillary in a KALE sweatshirt, you’ll know why.