With the field reduced to four and the possibility that this is the last significant Republican primary debate, the moment appeared ripe for a live blog. Feel free to discuss in the comments.
By way of disclaimers, I’ll mention that I dislike all of the candidates to varying degrees and that Macallan’s 12 may or may not be influencing some of my remarks:
8:05: CNN says we will have audience questions. Oh, great.
8:07: Romney mentions how long he has been married and his kids. I wonder if that remark was influenced by any recent events…
8:09: And CNN leads off with the ex-wife story. Newt blames CNN and the news media for lowering the level of discourse; says the story is false. Not clear what part is false, though. Update: The ‘open marriage’ part.
8:13: What do the other candidates think about the ex-wife story: Santorum says personal life is part of what people examine. Romney says get to the ‘real’ issues. Ron Paul disses media, says nevertheless he’s proud of his long marriage. Not sure what the best tack is there. I like Santorum’s.
8:15: Ron Paul, to the shock of all observers, says that we need to get the government out of the way.
8:17: Bain Capital. Newt says the business model was leverage, cash out, and leave’em. Romney responds with: let’s get America working again! Then, as the moderator presses, that ‘free enterprise works’! Then describes job creation record at Bain again….mentions Dominoes pizza…”there’s nothing wrong with profit”. “Freedom makes America strong!” I suppose we are lucky Newt didn’t respond to the initial question with “Marriage is great!”; “Marriage works!”; and “Marriage makes America strong!”
8:22: Santorum asked to talk about Bain, ignores the question and talks instead about creating manufacturing jobs. No taxes for manufacturers.
8:31: ObamaCare. Moderator stacks the deck by asking about pre-existing conditions (the only significant part of the bill that polls well) and then asks if people with pre-existing conditions will be hurt by Romney’s executive order. Moderator apparently doesn’t understand that the executive order can’t change that part of the law. Romney says he will repeal and replace ObamaCare, but include pre-existing conditions protection in the replace bill.
8:35: ObamaCare – Santorum: “Romney has stood by RomneyCare” Well, to be fair, it’s nice to Romney standing by some of his record. “Gingrich supported an individual mandate”. True enough. Santorum says he has been standing up for twenty years for conservative principles while Romney and Gingrich “were playing footsies with the left”.
8:38: And Romney begins his standard health care obfuscation, long familiar to anyone who has watched these debates regularly. Somehow it always goes down smooth.
8:42: Santorum is good on the attack. It won’t help him much, but he can damage both Newt and Romney. His strategy should be to take down Newt if I’m reading the polls correctly, but Mitt’s always an inviting target.
8:44: Paul points out that Santorum supported Medicare Part D, which didn’t have an adequate funding mechanism. A good point on the merits. But then Paul goes on a tangent about overseas spending….and unnecessary wars. And if we cut those, we would be able to pay for health care according to Ron Paul.
Moderator says Newt released his taxes during the debate and that we will discuss later. Who cares?
Commercial Break 1: No one has really impressed or floundered so far; no clear advantage for Round 1.
8:49: Moderator asks Santorum about Gingrich’s comments that he should get out of the race because he doesn’t think on a large scale: “Grandiosity has never been a problem for Newt Gingrich.” Ha. Good line from Santorum. Santorum says he is steady and solid and won’t do things that make people worry.
8:53: Newt says that he thinks grandly, and that this is a ‘grandiose country’. Santorum responds that Newt thinks grandly, but doesn’t execute, and mentions coup against him as Speaker in the 90’s. Then claims Newt looked the other way on corruption in the 90’s.
8:55: Good back and forth from Gingrich and Santorum. Now Gingrich is running through his entire record and lulling audience to sleep.
8:56: Romney points out how boring Gingrich’s history lesson is. Says we should send him because he hasn’t lived in Washington before. After that, no one on stage is sure what the questions is, which is not surprising, given how rarely the candidates answer them. Romney to Gingrich: “You always talk about Reagan, but Reagan mentioned you once in his diary.” Ha.
8:58: Gingrich and Romney back and forth: Gingrich says that Congress created the conditions that made Romney’s career possible. Romney says: 1) you were Speaker for four years, I was in business 25; 2) I don’t recall ever waking up and saying “thank heavens for Congress.” A good point
By my lights Romney tends to ‘win’exchanges with Gingrich, but lose back-and-forths with Rick Santorum. Santorum always does his homework, and Romney is not quick on his feet. Not much from Ron Paul so far.
9:06: Audience question is Tax Returns – when will they be released? Seems like a planted question. Ron Paul has no plans to release. Romney plans to release in April – glad he figured out an answer this time (and conveniently after the primaries will be over).
9:18: SOPA….I have no interest in SOPA. The candidates are all against it. Wikipedia rules all. Santorum says he is against it, but that the idea ‘anything goes on the internet’ is bad. Moving on.
9:23: If you could redo campaign, what would you do over? Nothing interesting in the responses, other than Romney stating for the umpteenth time that “we should be taking about Obama…Obama is in way over his head.” The Romneybot showed human flashes earlier, but is back on message.
9:28: Illegal Immigration: Newt: I don’t think we are going to deport the grandmothers that go to your Church. Well, then. And so he proposes amnesty boards again. Romney: This is easy. Build a fence. Force employers to check citizenship status through a card system. We’re not going to round them up, but we won’t provide a preferential path to citizenship. Santorum: When you come illegally, the first act you take is to break our law. “If you want to be American, first thing you must do is respect our laws and obey our laws.” Says they are on-going lawbreakers.
Republicans on immigration always sound to me like Bill Gates arguing that no one should steal bread.
9:38: Abortion: Gingrich – Romneycare financed abortions, Romney appointed pro-abortion judges after pro-life conversion. Romney – said that there was no mention of abortion in RomneyCare, that this was put in by the courts in MA (need to fact check that). I apointed 50 judges and didn’t have a litmus test. “I am pro-life”. Santorum: Any governor knows that courts will require abortion financing unless excluded in the legislation (is that true?). Santorum says he has fought the battles, not just talked. Says Gingrich pushed social issues to the back bench. Romney: I vetoed stem cell research, promoted abstinence record, etc.
Interesting exchange. Santorum has the clear edge on anti-abortion legislation. Romney ‘converted’. Gingrich always tried to marginalize social issues when he was Speaker.
9:49: Santorum says Ron Paul has voted against national pro-life legislation. Paul responds that it should be done at the state level.
And that’s close enough to a wrap. A few other thoughts:
- None of the candidates had a particularly bad or good night, which favors Romney.
- This was one of Gingrich’s weaker debates; he didn’t have a standout moment, and took some legitimate fire from Santorum and Romney. Santorum succintly made the anti-Gingrich case: grandiose ideas with no excecution and a lack of reliability.
- Mitt was coasting for the most part. He took the normal shots on Bain, tax returns, RomneyCare, and pro-life issues (real liabilities that have been so often repeated that they hardly register), but was smooth and unflappable other than an awkward moment on taxes. He responds very poorly when unprepared, but is smooth when he has a chance to learn his lines.
- In a vacuum, I’d say Santorum won the debate on points, but debating points don’t translate to poll results unless your name is Newt Gingrich.