[Here's the complete transcript.]
I'll be live-blogging here, and there's also live-blogging at TalkingPointsMemo and National Review (in the second column of the homepage).
As always, I'll be typing any quotes on the fly without the benefit of a transcript. So they might not be verbatim accurate, but I'll try to keep them as close as possible.
8:00 - The candidates are sitting around a table, for the first time in this race.
8:01 - Also unlike any of the previous debates, this one will be only about the economy. Good.
8:04 - Rick Perry says he'll finally get around to releasing some specific plans.
8:05 - Mitt Romney emphasizes the importance of working with both parties, which he knows how to do based on his experience in a state dominated by the other party.
8:07 - Charlie Rose presses Perry for some specific proposals. He makes some general statements about energy independence, and says he isn't going to lay out his plan tonight. He says it's unfair for Romney to criticize him for not having a specific plan yet: Romney has had 6 years to run for president, while Perry's only been doing it for 8 weeks. [ADDED: How conservative is it of Perry to be complaining that Romney has an unfair advantage because he's worked longer and harder at this?]
8:09 - I like this format. It feels more serious and composed than the podium/standing debates. It's also more dramatic when a candidate looks at another candidate from across the table. So far, I'd say the format is good for Cain, Romney, and Michele Bachmann, and not so great for Perry.
8:12 - Newt Gingrich is very strident on what he considers the corruption of the Federal Reserve. The moderator prompts hearty laughter around the table by saying, "So, Congressman [Ron] Paul, where do you stand on this issue?"
8:15 - Rick Santorum says that in contrast with Cain's "9/9/9" plan, his plan will actually pass in time to respond to the ongoing economic crisis.
8:17 - Thankfully, this debate is free of those annoying bells to signal when the candidates' time is up.
8:19 - Gingrich says Sarah Palin was unfairly attacked for coining the phrase "death panels." He claims that federal government standards on prostate cancer are effectively going to kill men.
8:20 - Bachmann: "President Obama plans for Medicare to collapse, and everyone will be pushed into Obamacare."
8:22 - Huntsman on Cain's "9/9/9" plan: "It's a catchy phrase. I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard of it." Huntsman finally pulls off a zinger that works.
8:23 - Cain is on fire as he responds to Huntsman and Santorum: "9/9/9 will pass, and it is not the price of a pizza. And unlike your plans, it starts by throwing out the current tax code. . . . It will pass, because the American people want it to pass." Oh, so the American people want to make the rich richer and the poor poorer?
8:25 - The moderator and Romney spar over whether the moderator's question about a future economic collapse of Europe is a "hypothetical." The moderator says "it's not a hypothetical" because it's about "a very real threat." When did people stop understanding what the word "hypothetical" means?
8:28 - Romney quotes Milton Friedman: "If you took all the economists in America and laid them end to end, it would be a good thing." But Romney has more respect for economists than that.
8:31 - TalkingPointsMemo has a huge headline:
Gingrich Calls For Jailing Sen. Dodd And Rep. FrankActually, he only called for "looking at" jailing Senators Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. [Clarification: Gingrich did at first make a pretty clear statement that we should jail Dodd and Frank, though he said this after the word "if," so he has plausible deniability. Later, he softened his statement to say we should investigate Dodd and Frank.]
8:47 - Bachmann criticizes Cain's "9/9/9" plan for "creating a new revenue stream for Congress." If you turn it upside-down, "the Devil is in the details."
8:49 - Huntsman criticizes Romney for wanting to start a "trade war" with China.
8:51 - Perry seems to come out against the very idea of enacting any policies! He just wants to "get America working again." But how would he do that? The most concrete thing he says is that he'd pull back a lot of regulations and put us on a path to "energy independence." (Of course, every president and presidential candidate says we need "energy independence," and it never happens.)
8:54 - Santorum asks how many people in the audience want a national sales tax. Almost no one raises their hand, and Santorum tells Cain that shows how many votes he'll get. Santorum asks how many people think Congress will keep the sales tax at 9%, and no one appears to raise their hand. But Cain promised us in an earlier debate that there's no chance the taxes would ever go up!
8:58 - Up next: the candidates will ask each other questions.
9:06 - Bachmann uses her question to Perry to point out that he worked for Al Gore's first presidential campaign during the end of the Reagan administration.
9:09 - Cain asks Romney a question: Cain's 9/9/9 plan is "simple" and "neutral" (whatever that means). Is Romney's "59-point plan" simple and neutral, and can he list all 59 points? This is actually a softball question, since it gives Romney an opportunity to list the highlights of his plan. No one would expect him to list all 59 points in a debate, so the question about whether he can list them all is a red herring.
9:11 - Romney: "I'm not worried about rich people. They're doing just fine. The poor have a safety net." He's worried about the people in the middle, and that's why his tax plan is directed toward them. Good.
9:12 - Huntsman asks Romney a question. Is that the third question in a row that's gone to Romney?
9:15 - Paul asks Cain whether he stands by his past statements against auditing the Federal Reserve. Paul says Cain said people who want to audit the Federal Reserve are "ignorant." Cain adamantly says this is a misquote, that he didn't call anyone ignorant, and that Paul shouldn't believe everything he sees on the internet. Cain adds that his priority isn't auditing the Federal Reserve — it's "9/9/9"!
9:17 - Perry asks Romney a question about his health-care reform in Massachusetts. That seems like a waste of his question. Oh, the health-care issue may be bad for Romney, but Perry has to know that Romney is going to smoothly give his standard answer on health care. Perry cuts into Romney's answer, and Romney sharply says: "I'm still speaking!" Romney criticizes the high percentage of people without health insurance in Texas.
9:18 - The candidates are supposed to ask questions in alphabetical order, so Santorum declines when moderator Charlie Rose prompts him to ask a question. Santorum points out that Romney is before him in the alphabet. Romney: "You'd think someone from PBS would know that."
9:21 - Santorum points out that 4 of the candidates — Cain, Romney, Perry, and Huntsman — "naively" supported TARP. He asks Cain why voters should trust him to protect liberty given his inexperience. I believe this is the first time anyone in any of the debates has called out Cain's total lack of political experience.
9:32 - Cain is asked who his favorite Chairman of the Federal Reserve is, and he says Alan Greenspan. Ron Paul: "Spoken like a true insider! Alan Greenspan was a disaster!" Yet Paul says Greenspan agrees with him about the need to bring back the gold standard.
9:40 - Charlie Rose asks Gingrich if owning a home is no longer "the American dream." Gingrich predictably attacks this idea: some people would like America to "decay so that government could share in the misery."
9:45 - Santorum says the way to reduce poverty is to "encourage marriage," because the poverty rate among families led by a working "husband and wife" is only 5%, in contrast with the 30% poverty rate of families with just one working parent. If that's Santorum's approach, shouldn't he be interested in the poverty rate among families with two husbands, or two wives?
9:47 - Each of the candidates is asked how their personal experience would influence them as president. Cain: "I was po' before I was poor."
9:50 - Santorum says there's more upward economic mobility in Europe than in America. That seems like an odd tack for a conservative to take.
9:52 - The debate is over. Charlie Rose thanks the candidates for sitting with him at the table, and adds: "I believe in tables."
This debate reinforced Cain's newfound frontrunner status, in that the moderators and other candidates spent so much time attacking him. Whether his defenses were convincing on the merits is a matter of opinion, but as far as his presentation, he seemed unflappable, resolute, and passionate. Beyond that, I have a hard time seeing this debate changing much. Frankly, unless someone makes a huge gaffe or gives as bad a performance as Perry did last time, I doubt any of the upcoming primary debates from now until January will change much either. This cast of characters has gotten pretty familiar.
UPDATE (the next day): My mom, Ann Althouse, had a very different reaction to Cain than I did. In this post, she describes "[t]he point in the debate when my doubts about Herman Cain suddenly spiked." After a rigorous analysis of Cain's statements from last night's debate, she concludes:
Come on, people. This infatuation with Herman Cain is embarrassing. Wake up!