A Time For Chaos | Crooked Media
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September 27, 2023
What A Day
A Time For Chaos

In This Episode

  • The second 2024 GOP presidential debate took place yesterday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. The pool of candidates was smaller compared to the last round, but it wasn’t any less chaotic. Erin Ryan, host of Crooked Media’s “Hysteria” podcast, and Brian Beutler, founder of the Off Message newsletter, joins us to break it all down.
  • And in headlines: the American soldier who crossed into North Korea in July was transferred to U.S. custody, a federal judge in Texas blocked that state’s ban on public drag shows, and late-night TV is gearing up for its comeback.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, September 28th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver and this is What a Day sending our sincerest condolences to the fact checkers who were working during the GOP presidential debate last night. Y’all put in work. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Seriously, we salute you. You are the true American heroes. But please, you deserve a day off. Please take it. 


Juanita Tolliver: Legit. You wouldn’t see me till Monday if I had that job. [laughter] [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, some much needed victories against two anti-LGBTQ laws. Plus, late night TV is gearing up for its comeback. 


Juanita Tolliver: But first, the normally sleepy suburb of Simi Valley, California, had one of its wildest nights in recent memory. 


[clip of GOP debate moderator] We have a lot of ground to cover, so please keep it civilized. 


Juanita Tolliver: [laughter] I mean. 


Priyanka Aribindi: If only. 


Juanita Tolliver: That’s how it all started at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which hosted the second Republican presidential debate last night. And, well, it ended up sounding something more like this. 


[clip of unknown speaker] I think he’s [?]. 


[clip of unknown speaker] Of anybody who’s in politics. [indistinct banter by GOP canidates]


[clip of unknown speaker] Excuse me. Thank you for speaking while I’m interrupting, while I’m speaking. 


[clip of unknown speaker] Literally well literally you said bought and paid for. [indistinct banter by GOP canidates]


[clip of unknown speaker] If I may finish, if I may finish.


[clip of unknown speaker] You can’t you can’t be on both sides.


[clip of Nikki Haley] And what you’ve got. I honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say. 


Juanita Tolliver: Period. Like, I rarely agree with her on anything, but that applied to the entire stage for me. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I got to say, it was the most memorable line of the whole night for me in particular, but probably because I was relating a little bit. But anyways, though, the pool of contenders on the stage this time around was smaller, it definitely was not any less chaotic up there. As we previewed for you on yesterday’s show, the candidates did in fact, spend some time talking about issues like the economy. But the debate also led to some seriously crazy shit. And knowing how this crowd operates, it’s really saying a lot. So to cut through all the chaos we brought in our friends Erin Ryan and Brian Beutler. Erin is the host of Crooked’s Hysteria podcast and Brian is the founder of the newsletter Off Message. Erin and Brian, welcome to the show. 


Brian Beutler: It’s good to be here. 


Erin Ryan: Hey, good to see you. 


Juanita Tolliver: All right y’all, we’re going to do this rapid fire. And I really want to start with who do you think spewed the most hateful, heinous rhetoric during tonight’s debate? I mean, after the first debate, we discussed how Vivek Ramaswamy blasted his opponents and climate change. Did he outdo himself tonight or did Chris Christie’s comment about Biden being in bed with a teacher, a.k.a. Dr. Jill Biden take the cake?


Brian Beutler: I would say that Christie’s was like sort of the most classless, but it also you could think of it as like a joke in poor taste that didn’t land. I think that, like the crueler thing was when Mike Pence seemed ashamed about having to confess. 


Juanita Tolliver: Oh my god yes. [laughter]


Brian Beutler: That he sleeps with his wife, who is also an educator. 


Erin Ryan: It was easy to be kind of distracted by those moments like the curtain fight and, [laughter] you know, Nikki kind of going Amy Klobuchar on uh Vivek. I found the rhetoric around immigration to be just very unhinged because–


Juanita Tolliver: Mm hmm. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. 


Erin Ryan: They weren’t yelling as loud when they were talking about that, but they were suggesting things that were literally nonstarters. They also got really, really over their skis when it came to talking about drugs and dealing with fentanyl. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Erin Ryan: I didn’t hear any candidate talk about how we are going to handle the fact that so many Americans have gotten addicted to painkillers and have turned to heroin and fentanyl and street drugs. 


Juanita Tolliver: No. 


Erin Ryan: I didn’t hear anything about how we’re going to tackle any mental health issues stateside. All I’ve heard is they’re going to invade Puerto Vallarta or whatever. 


Juanita Tolliver: Exactly. 


Erin Ryan: They’re going to take on the cartels. Okay. Well, that doesn’t really help anybody who’s dealing with addiction right now or who has a family member who’s struggling with it. I found time and time again in the debate that the people on stage demonstrated a profound lack of normalcy and understanding of things that people actually face. Like there was a question that Dana Perino asked really early in the debate. She brought up child care. There is a uh child care worker credit that’s going to expire on September 30th. Millions of children are going to be caught in a lurch and lose their child care providers, which a child care provider enables parents to work. They kind of talked about it for like 30 seconds and then moved on to stupid bullshit that doesn’t really impact that many people just like slap fighting. My overall vibe was that these people have no idea what it’s like to be a normal person in any way. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. I want to circle back to one of the topics you mentioned, immigration. It was a big topic throughout the night. Candidates were describing some really inhumane policy proposals. We actually have a few clips. Let’s take a listen to the first one. 


[clip of Nikki Haley] Let’s go back to remain in Mexico policy instead of catch and release, let’s go to catch and deport. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Vivek Ramaswamy in particular had this to say when asked about what he’d do to curb immigration. 


[clip of Vivek Ramaswamy] I favor ending birthright citizenship for the kids of illegal immigrants in this country. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We had a taste of your reaction to that, Erin, earlier. But Brian, what was your reaction to that mess? And then, Erin, if you want to go a little further as well, please do. 


Brian Beutler: I have to will myself out of becoming desensitized to it right. Like it is simultaneously true that all of that is crazy and also that this debate broke new ground and that the Republican Party has planted itself in this crazy place where there’s like an emerging consensus that the right way to deal with immigration and drugs flowing across the border to the extent that they are, is to go to war essentially is to like, bomb Mexico or invade, and that like you should just strip birthright citizenship as written out of the Constitution. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Brian Beutler: These are the sorts of policies which, if adopted as prescribed, lead to ethnic cleansing. I mean, they’re they’re–


Juanita Tolliver: That part. 


Brian Beutler: –like totally unacceptable for a humane society to even consider. But like they get mentioned in the first debate and their eyes bug out of their head. And then it’s not like it brings about the collapse of the Republican Party. So they say it again at the second debate and then they’ll say it again at the third debate and eventually, like it gets harder and harder for people like us who understand how inhumane all of that is to remain exercised about it. So I have to will myself almost to like remain upset about it. 


Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. I mean, the Overton Window shifting is so extreme and it’s happening right in front of us uh– 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Erin Ryan: –when it comes to the way Republicans talk about immigration. You have one person that’s like so extreme, they’re like [?] fire immigrants out of a cannon or whatever, you know, And then another person that’s like, hmm, I don’t think we should fire them out of a cannon, but we definitely should keep them in cages. Then that person’s voice is like the moderate voice. And it’s like, no, no, no. None of these people are suggesting anything A, workable and B, humane. A lot of this is just theater, but the type of theater that they choose to whip up their base into a frenzy is very uh telling about the types of people that live in this country right now. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. Another component of that theater is culture wars, which the candidates weighed in on as per usual, this time with some really disturbing takes. This was Ramaswamy’s deranged rant about trans kids and across the board push for parental rights. 


[clip of Vivek Ramaswamy] I have to be very clear about this. Transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder. We have to acknowledge the truth of that for what it is. 


Juanita Tolliver: When I tell you this pains me deeply, but I need y’alls reactions to the way he just so casually deployed that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric it like, literally flowed off his tongue. Erin you go first. 


Erin Ryan: I tell you what, I would rather have five kids that were trans than one kid that was that big of a dweeb. 


Juanita Tolliver: Come on. 


Erin Ryan: He is a huge goober and a dweeb, and we’re not talking enough about that. He is raising his hand at the end of class to ask the teacher why they didn’t get a pop quiz. He is just an absolute dweeb. He’s an evil dweeb who demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what the experience of trans people is like in the U.S. and what the reality is of medical care for trans kids. There is a lot of like fear mongering about stuff that doesn’t really happen, except in Bari Weiss’s newsletter. Kids are going to the doctor when they’re tiny children and getting gender affirming care that, like forever alters their bodies. That’s not something that we really see evidence of it actually happening. It’s kind of a a ghost story that conservatives tell around the Fox News campfire. But it’s become fodder in debates and people think it’s really happening and they’re using this fantasy about what’s really happening, even though it’s not happening to craft laws and it’s ridiculous and silly. And yes, he is a huge dweeb, but it’s also at the base of it is a hate that is something we need to reckon with. 


Brian Beutler: I wrote in Off Message on Wednesday about the special disdain I have for people who engage in cynical cruelty. There are plenty of just sadistic, cruel people in the country that’s– 


Juanita Tolliver: Yup. 


Brian Beutler: –also bad. But the people who know better, who recognize that there’s just cruel people out there and decide, I want to whip that up so that they like me, is like a very unique kind of evil. And I feel like the trans issue is one that kind of exposes it most clearly, because none of the Republican candidates today who are pretending to be so upset about trans health care or trans girls playing sports, ever cared about girls sports. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Brian Beutler: Ever particularly cared about who used which bathroom until they realized that that got them feedback from like a subset of Americans who want to be cruel to people who like have the least amount of power. I think that’s the thing that I find like most upsetting about it, is knowing a flip switch on their heads and they decided that they were going to beat up on children for votes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. 


Juanita Tolliver: There were also lots of pot shots against the guy who wasn’t on the stage, Donald Trump. He was busy railing against electric cars at a nonunion truck parts supplier in Michigan. So which of those attacks, if any, do you think were successful and will actually stick to Trump? 


Brian Beutler: I was actually surprised. I mean, not surprised as I’ve become used to it. But I thought it was notable how little the candidates went after Trump, as per usual. We heard DeSantis for the first time kind of attack Trump, call him out by name. 


Juanita Tolliver: That part. 


Brian Beutler: We’re kind of used to Chris Christie saying the guy is actually corrupt, like–


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Brian Beutler: –right, he’s bad and he shouldn’t be president. DeSantis has danced around this for a long time. He finally decided, okay, I should attack Donald Trump. And it was like for the budget deficit [laughter] and like what he said about abortion, like he still thinks that, like, okay, I can attack Donald Trump, but it should be to try to convince Americans that I’m even crazier and less likable than he is. And so, like I’m sure Donald Trump welcomes that. Like if Ron DeSantis attacking him for like responding to COVID and also saying that six week abortion bans are bad as a way to try to jockey for like support in the Republican primary, he thinks that’s going to help me in the general election so what does he care? 


Juanita Tolliver: I think the only reason he said Trump’s name today was because Trump’s been in the news. We know he was found guilty of fraud allegations earlier this week. So I feel like that made him feel okay. Like, okay, he’s getting hit by other people. I can slide this in, right? 


Erin Ryan: The election is more than a year away. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Erin Ryan: And people have a lot of time left to backtrack and backpedal and pretend they didn’t say things and obfuscate and, you know, make nice or whatever. I, this time in, you know, 2016, Kevin McCarthy was talking about Donald Trump being paid by Putin. 


Juanita Tolliver: I mean. 


Erin Ryan: And then, you know, he ended up being one of Trump’s most ardent toadies during the entirety of the Trump administration. Mitt Romney was out there speaking out against Trump. Ted Cruz was out there speaking out against Trump. This stage in the election, speaking out against Trump is a calculated decision for how these people can get the support that they need or raise the money that they need. I don’t believe anything that they say actually will translate to any kind of long lasting policy position, any kind of long lasting moral position, because there’s so much time for them to just put a bunch more crap in between voters and the memory of tonight. So, yeah, like Ron DeSantis came out and then, you know, Chris Christie had his weird Donald Duck joke and–


Juanita Tolliver: Which was horrid. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh God. 


Juanita Tolliver: –like he was doing so well up until the moment he said, Donald fucking duck. I’m like, sir, you can’t close, horrid horrid. [laughing]


Erin Ryan: I know. I know. 


[clip of Chris Christie] And I want to look in that camera right now and tell you, Donald, I know you’re watching. You can’t help yourself. I know you’re watching, okay? And you’re not here tonight. Not because of polls and not because of your indictments. You’re not here tonight because you’re afraid of being on the stage and defending your record. 


Juanita Tolliver: Reactions to that? 


Erin Ryan: He’s not wrong. 


Brian Beutler: I mean, it’s true. He’s the only one who has the insight that if what he did could create a snowball effect among other Republican candidates, Donald Trump might actually have problems. Right. Like Ron DeSantis, I don’t think is like atuned to what Donald Trump’s vulnerabilities are. He’s only attuned to his own, and that’s why he’s like, I need a change. I need to mix it up a little bit and attack Donald Trump for the budget deficit or whatever. But if he was really interested in the fact that a judge basically said the Trump Organization can’t operate in New York anymore because of all the fraud, he could have said that. You know, Trump said in a deposition, like a sworn deposition, it was revealed that he can accept bribes from Saudi Arabia if he wants his properties to be valued at a high level. Like Ron DeSantis could have said that. The only person on the stage who actually knows any of this stuff is Chris Christie. He’s correct that if more Republicans on the stage were like him, then Trump would have a problem. But as it turns out, as it seems to always turn out, there’s only ever one Republican who’s ever willing to criticize Donald Trump at one time. And they do. And they become horribly unpopular among Republicans and they get booted from whatever race they’re in, and then somebody else takes their place and the same thing happens. Like they need to do it together, but they just won’t. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, it’s red rover red rover strategy. They they got to send more than one guy over at the same time. I think that a lot of them like grumble privately about Trump but are afraid of the possibility of soundbites being used against them in the near future. Because I don’t think that any candidate on that stage has anywhere near the die hards that Trump has. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Erin Ryan: I don’t know anybody who’s like, I like Nikki Haley so much. I’m going to go to a whole rally for her. I’m going to like dress up. I’m going to stand in line, I’m going to make a sign. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m going to storm the Capitol for her. 


Juanita Tolliver: Exactly right, Priyanka. I’m going to show up on January 6th. Right like that was the vibe.


Erin Ryan: Yeah, nobody loves the governor of North Dakota enough to storm the U.S. Capitol. 


Juanita Tolliver: What’s his name again? 


Erin Ryan: Um. [laughter] Doug. Doug.


Juanita Tolliver: I’m joking. I’m joking. 


Brian Beutler: Burgum. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Last question for you both. Dana Perino tried to get at this at the end of the debate. She was cut off. But we will circle back here because I would actually like to hear it from you guys more than I would from those people on stage. If you had the chance out of everybody on the stage, not including Doug, because that’s just an easy answer. Who’s mic would you cut? Who would you take out of this primary running? You can be strategic about it. Erin, why don’t you start? 


Erin Ryan: Vivek Ramaswamy 100%. He’s so annoying. 


Priyanka Aribindi: He had me cheering for Nikki so. 


Erin Ryan: Honestly, I cannot stand Nikki Haley. And I was like, cheering Nikki using a dusty line from Billy Madison as like, a comeback to him. 


Brian Beutler: Oh, you stole that from me Erin [laughter] I was going to say that that was a Billy Madison quote. 


Erin Ryan: It is a Billy Madison quote. You’re not the only one who’s seen Billy Madison, Brian. It was a popular film. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah but I thought I was the only one who noticed. 


Erin Ryan: It was a popular film. 


Brian Beutler: For people our age.


Erin Ryan: Yes. Yes. I mean, we’re all dumber for having heard you say that is something we all yelled at someone on the playground in seventh grade [laughter] who was saying something dumb. That’s how annoying he is, though. I was like, wow, that’s great. She quoted a movie that I liked at one point in my life and she smacked down this really annoying guy. I also really liked Christie being like, knock it off, man. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 


Erin Ryan: Still my time. Him just on account of the fact that he is so annoying that I feel like I lose the ability to reason. I feel like I’m going to blackout when he raises that dumb little finger. [laughter] I can’t think. I can’t focus. I am pure ID right now. He’s annoying. Get him out of there. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What about you, Brian? 


Brian Beutler: My backup as I was puzzling over what to say when she was talking about Ramaswamy was Nikki Haley for stealing the line from Billy Madison [laughter] without crediting Billy Madison. So I now again, seat of my pants will say Mike Pence. My rationale, I’m like, he actually comes across as, like, maybe the most dignified person on the stage in Republican adjusted terms. But, you know, he knows he’s not going to be vice president, just like Christie knows he’s not going to be vice president. In theory, that should free him to be a little bit more frank about [?]. 


Juanita Tolliver: Come on now, come on now. 


Brian Beutler: He is not, still not willing to go [laughter] much further than like Donald Trump was wrong to say I should have been hanged for not overturning the election. Like he is squandering the opportunity, the freedom that his being on the outskirts with Donald Trump should afford him, to speak a little bit more candidly about why Trump shouldn’t be president again. And unlike Christie, he’s like just not taking it so to hell with him. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, all he’s doing is claiming he has sex with his wife in perhaps the least convincing way possible. [laughter] But anyways, Brian and Erin, thank you so much for–


Juanita Tolliver: Thanks y’all. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –making this night a little bit more bearable for both of us. It’s always a pleasure having you two on. 


Erin Ryan: Thanks for having us. 


Brian Beutler: Always fun to be on. [music break] 




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: U.S. Army Private Travis King, the American soldier who crossed into North Korea more than two months ago, was transferred to U.S. custody yesterday. Officials said that he was on his way back to the United States on Wednesday, thanks to negotiations facilitated by Sweden and transport provided by China. Before his release was secured, North Korean state media said that he faced expulsion and claimed that he, quote, “confessed that he illegally intruded into the reclusive authoritarian state.” Biden administration officials, for their part, made it clear that they did not give any concessions to North Korea’s government to guarantee his release. As we told you earlier this summer, King crossed the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea back in July after he reportedly joined a civilian tour group of the area. A week before this bizarre incident, he was supposed to board a plane to the U.S. to face disciplinary action following an assault charge in South Korea. He is expected to face additional disciplinary action, will be given physical and mental health assistance and will be reunited with his family before those next steps. 


Juanita Tolliver: In other diplomatic news, the Biden administration said yesterday that Israeli citizens can now enter the United States without a visa. That’s part of an agreement with Israel, which was made in exchange for Israel allowing American citizens, including Palestinian Americans, to enter the country visa free for short term stays. It follows a pilot program that launched in July. The State Department says it’s working out some details, but as of November 30th, Israeli citizens will be able to travel to the U.S. visa free for up to 90 days. And all U.S. citizens, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, can fly directly into Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Before, many Palestinian Americans were forced to go to Jordan first before crossing into the West Bank by land. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And at long last, some good news in the ongoing fight to protect trans rights. In Texas, a federal judge permanently blocked that state’s ban on public drag shows, deeming it unconstitutional. The law, which went into effect on September 1st, was similar to Tennessee’s drag ban, which characterized those performances as sexually explicit and inappropriate for minors. The ACLU ended up suing Texas on behalf of a group of drag performers and LGBTQ rights groups, saying that the ban was discriminatory and too big to be enforced. And the judge hearing the case agreed. This comes after more than a dozen states have tried to restrict drag shows over the past year. Meanwhile, a Montana judge blocked that state’s ban on gender affirming care for trans youth. Montana’s law, which was set to take effect on Sunday, would have banned medical professionals from providing puberty blockers, hormone therapy, or gender affirming care to minors. The judge in that case granted a preliminary injunction against the measure, writing that it is, quote, “unlikely to survive any level of constitutional review and that it would harm trans kids both physically and mentally.” As a reminder, gender affirming care for trans adults and minors has been endorsed by every major medical organization. 


Juanita Tolliver: And finally, the Hollywood writers strike has officially come to an end. And that means late night TV is coming back. The Writers Guild of America called off the 148 day strike just after midnight Wednesday, just a few days after it announced its new three year agreement with the major Hollywood and TV studios. Guild members will have from October 2nd to October 9th to vote on whether or not to approve the deal. But in the meantime, writers can get back to work, which means the return of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Fans of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver can expect a brand new show this Sunday. And for the diehard late night fans out there, that also means the end of the limited series podcast Strike Force Five, which was hosted by Fallon, Meyers, Colbert, Kimmel and Oliver during the strike. They donated the profits from the pod to their teams out on the picket lines. I love seeing the guys leading out front, but let’s be real it’s not lost on me, they’re all men and they’re all white. So bring Amber Ruffin back. Pretty, please. Let’s get her back on the scene here. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. We need some more color. We need some more women in the late night lineup, that is for sure. But one thing to be thrilled about is that all these people who work on these shows are heading back to work and doing the work that they were meant to be doing. So I am so happy for them and for all the writers, so many writers in my life and in the lives of our friends who work on this show– 


Erin Ryan: Yes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –seem really excited about this deal. So that is so positive. I’m just happy to see it. And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Take a break from the news about Republican presidential candidates and tell your friends to listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just articles about what Amber Ruffin is up to, like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And thank you fact checkers. 


Juanita Tolliver: Ooh, it’s a tireless, thankless job that will never end with these Republicans. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly. But I almost wonder if it’s easier with these people versus Democrats because like, we have less of an expectation that they’re telling the truth. 


Juanita Tolliver: And you don’t have to dig deep to find the lie either so. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Right. [laughter] [music break]


Juanita Tolliver: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.