The US Presidential Debate Domestic Policy Drinking Game

A fun way to enjoy the first presidential debate.

Obviously, the New Statesman doesn't advocate drinking in your place of work, or at all. (It also disapproves of dancing, and "that modern music".) You might perhaps enjoy this game with lemonade or water, or a refreshing iced tea. Over to Nicky:

As has become traditional, both parties are downplaying their chances of victory before debate night tonight. Romney has the easier job of this one. Obama's intimidating skills as a rhetorician helped him against McCain when he was an upstart candidate, but he needs to be careful; low expectations of Romney might trip the president up. He has to be amazing to maintain expectations, while all Romney has to do is not screw up to exceed them. That said, Romney is trailing in the polls, so he might go for broke tonight, which would be deeply entertaining – but if he doesn't try anything crazy, here's the New Statesman's Domestic Policy Debate Drinking Game to play.

The rules:

First, choose your candidate – or try to play with both if you haven't got work tomorrow.

There are several keywords to start you off: take a big swig when you hear them from your candidate. Romney's drink-on-hearing words are “deficit”, “gas prices” and “debt”. Obama's are “General Motors”, “college tuition”, and “investment.”

Both will be talking about “jobs” an awful lot, so this should only be a drink-word if you want to get really, seriously drunk.

A few set-pieces next: these are for everyone. Any time either candidate tells an anecdote in which they met someone specific, everyone must shout “Joe the Plumber!” and finish their drinks.

Any mention of the secret video filmed of Mitt Romney earlier this year – even a hint at its contents – everyone must down just over half of their remaining drinks and throw the last 47 per cent away. (See what we did there?)

If Obama talks about his childhood or youth, take a gulp from the drink of the person on your left. If Romney does the same, take a gulp from the drink of the person on your right. If either candidate mentions the word “freedom”, everyone high-fives.

Finally, verbal habits of each candidate. If one of them happens, everyone must repeat it out loud, and take a sip. For Obama, every time he says “my opponent” or “let me be clear”; you drink. Any time he makes a list of three on a rising cadence everyone must shout “three!” and drink.

For Romney, every time he refers to the audience as “my friends,” or laughs awkwardly, you drink. Every time he asks a rhetorical question and then says “I'll tell you why,” or “I'll tell you the answer,” you drink whether he then goes on to do so or not.

Nicky Woolf will be live-blogging the debate from 1am BST. He will not be drinking (right, Nicky?)

Obama and Romney on a T-shirt. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.