Live-Blogging the CNN South Carolina Debate

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.
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John Henry

Don't call me Nueman.


  1. Gee darn, had a meeting tonight. Guess I missed this one. Shucks.

    But hey, only six more to go. Seriously. There are actually six more of these things scheduled, though I doubt we’ll actually see that many in the end.

  2. I did just see the exchange at the beginning with John King. As my post below shows I don’t think Gingrich should be left off the hook, but that was about the best retort possible.

  3. Gingrich has more skeletons than a small town cemetary, but when it comes to dealing with the mainstream media he is simply brilliant:

    JOHN KING: And just as speaker Gingrich surged into contention here in South Carolina, a direct fresh character attack on the Speaker.

    And Mr Speaker, I want to start with that this evening.

    As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview with The Washington Post. And this story has now gone viral on the internet.

    In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage.

    Would you like to take some time to respond to that?

    GINGRICH: No, but I will.


    GINGRICH: I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.


    KING: Is that all you want to say, sir?

    GINGRICH: Let me finish.

    KING: Please.

    GINGRICH: Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.


    My – my two daughters – my two daughters wrote the head of ABC and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it, and I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.


    KING: As you noted, Mr Speaker, this story did not come from our network. As you also know, it is a subject of conversation on the campaign. I’m not – I get your point. I take your point.

    GINGRICH: John, John, it was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don’t try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with it.


    Let me be quite clear. Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period said the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren’t interested because they would like to attack any Republican. They’re attacking the governor. They’re attacking me. I’m sure they’ll presently get around to Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul.

    I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.


  4. Don, I have to say that I am proud of his dealing with rooting-around-like-pigs-do- when-feeding media and the response of the audience. (Cannot stomach the unending insidious bottom feeding for the appetites of viewers who care for nothing.) It’s like the people in the Coliseum right before the empire fell.
    Oh, and it occurred to me that some of our Saints wrote about their skeletons.

  5. I agree that Gingrich’s response was good debate tactics. On substance, though, meh. His ex-wife is the one who decided to come forward with those allegations at this point in time. She did the Esquire story a while back, but otherwise has been pretty quiet. I’d rather live in a world where the media reported this stuff as it arose, rather than live in the 1960’s where the hoi polloi were carefully protected from anything that might inform voters about the character of the candidates. Gingrich tries to take the moral high ground here, but, for me at least, it didn’t really work: “How dare you bring up the elephant in the room!” can momentarily set a moderator back, but that’s about it.

  6. John Henry I find it diffcult to take the media seriously as an arbiter of public or private morality. If they like a politician they will do their level best to protect him. They were forced, kicking and screaming, to give the John Edwards love child scandal any coverage, and that nasty piece of private and public corruption was left to the National Enquirer to explore initially, solely because Edwards was a liberal with a D after his name. Republicans understand that this game has been rigged against them for several generations and they are beyond tired of it. Newt touched a raw nerve in regard to this, and that is why he got the standing ovation.

    As to the substance of the story, he has long admitted to cheating on his first two wives. Marianne, the aggrieved Newt wife 2 who gave the interview, happily cheated with Gingrich while he was married to Newt wife 1. Whatever damage this has caused to him has already been factored in by any voter who isn’t comatose. Personally, I find Newt’s behavior in his first two marriages to be despicable, and I still find him preferable to Romney and light years better than Obama.

  7. I agree with John that his response did come across as “he doth protest too much.” But it was genius politically. Also, whatever one thinks about the issue, I do think it is out of bounds for a debate. If the media wants to investigate and report on it, that is their right, and the public can decide for itself. But there’s no point in bringing it up in this forum, though it must be said that Newt may have benefited from the exchange.

  8. I like the polish of Gov Romney and his ability to GET THIS ECONOMY GOING !!! THATS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ! With a republican house and senate, we can change Roe v Wade, and get more restrictions on abortion and this crazy same sex “marriage” thing.

  9. Don, you may like Romney and think that all Republicans are the same and will guarantee a better economy, better Supreme Court nominees, etc. But, it isn’t true. Romney is, to be kind, a moderate Republican. To be truthful, he is a Wall Street democrat. He loves big Government because he knows it best benefits crony Capitalism and his pocket book (see his six houses, 15% tax rate and all his millions he is hiding by not releasing his taxes). Beyond that he is a man with very little substance. He pandered to the left when he was running for Governor in Massachusetts. He is pandering now when he says he is Pro Life. I agree that beating Obama is important. But, it will be an empty victory if it’s Romney. It may please you to see a Republican in office, but policy won’t really change all that much (see RomneyCare). And the only real winners in a Romney Administration will be Wall Street and big Government. I don’t think it will happen regardless. If the Republican party runs Romney, it will lose in November. Only a true Conservative Christian like Gingrich or Santorum or Sarah Palin will truly advance the cause of good in this country.

  10. How anyone reading this blog Tom could think I like Romney is simply beyond me. Please look at my post from yesterday regarding Romney as a lousy politician. I have nicknamed him The Weathervane. My disdain for Romey is only exceeded by my disdain for Obama.

  11. Don, then I heartily apologize. I usually don’t read the comments. It is unfortunate that the Republican party is force feeding us Romney (in the belief that he is the only electable Republican) — especially when Romney’s record indicates he could easily be at home in or support just about political platform and benefit financially to boot. At this point, I fear the only thing to do is to get either Gingrich or Santorum to back out so that the conservative voice can be heard. Otherwise, the debate in November will be about Wall Street — which takes the focus entirely off of Obama and his poor record of leadership and governance.

  12. Don, I did a search on that quote:
    (Your comment is in there! More cyber amazement here.)

    Danton was guillotined later. He wanted the peasants to have bread, then education.
    Too bad there was destruction of so much culture then in the 1790’s.

    Good for Newt Gingrich to call out the audacity of the media in our culture which is not moving toward virtue.

  13. Danton was converted to Catholicism prior to his downfall. He told his executioner to hold his head up for the people to look at after his head was sliced off since it was worth the seeing. After he was sentenced to death he looked at Robespierre who had engineered his downfall and said, “After me, you, vile Robespierre!” a prophecy which came true with the downfall of the Jacobins shortly thereafter.

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