Brow Beat

Beto O’Rourke Was the Star of the First Debate, According to Late-Night TV

Trevor Noah next to a graphic of Beto O'Rourke.
Screenshot via YouTube

Well folks, we made it through the first debate of the Democratic primaries. The absurdity of the two-hour, 10-candidate, rapid-fire format already lent itself to mockery, but it was O’Rourke and Booker’s overeager attempts to out-Spanish one another that got the most attention across the late-night spectrum. If the debate was a competition to get noticed—which, with such a crowded field and so little time to say anything of substance, it might as well have been—then O’Rourke was the winner, though not all of the hosts were won over by his language skills.

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The Daily Show With Trevor Noah went live to cover the debates after they happened as part of the show’s ongoing “Votegasm 2020” election coverage. That meant Noah was one of the first to put his finger on what would become the defining moment of the debate. “To hear my answer in English, press 1,” Noah joked. “Goddamn, Beto O’Rourke. This guy was so fluent, I bet half of America thought they flipped to Univision by mistake.”

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Noah was impressed by O’Rourke’s display, noting that he also called for an end to the policies separating children from parents at the border. Of course, the moment wasn’t complete without Booker’s noticeable side-eye reaction, which Noah compared to walking into an exam in school: “And then you sit down and another student puts a protractor on the desk, and you’re like, What? We needed a protractor?

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Jimmy Fallon turned O’Rourke’s Spanish-speaking moment into a joke at the president’s expense (“Trump was watching like, ‘Crap, did I hit the SAP button?’ ") though he also imitated Booker’s response in Spanish, comparing him to Arnold Schwarzenegger learning Rosetta Stone. “Beto and Booker both spoke Spanish, but it’s not that crazy, because Miami has a large Spanish-speaking community,” he noted. “I just hope that the next debate is in Boston so I can hear them say ‘We need free college for anyone who is wicked smaht.’ “

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Colbert was less kind to O’Rourke than Noah or Fallon, telling his audience, “He’s either trying to lock up the Mexican vote or he’s running for embarrassing dad at a Mexican restaurant.” Oof. Colbert was also the only late-night comedian to bring up that whoever was providing the closed captioning at NBC for the broadcast must not know Spanish, since they typed “[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]” over O’Rourke’s speech.

On Late Night With Seth Meyers, Meyers chastised O’Rourke for deploying his Spanish so early (“You only have one bullet. Don’t fire until you see the whites of their bang!”), but he also gave one of the harshest, and probably most accurate, interpretations of the look Booker gave to O’Rourke. “You might think that’s the face of a guy thinking, I can’t believe you’re pandering by speaking Spanish,” said Meyers. “But it’s actually the face of a guy thinking, Aw man, I was gonna do that!”

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