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CBS News starts out with a long clip show of some of the most intense lines from previous debates, including the spats between Mitt Romney and the Ricks (Perry/Santorum) about whether Romney would be allowed to finish speaking. So they're shamelessly admitting what everyone knows: that the networks thrive on getting the candidates to attack each other.
8:05 - The first question goes to Herman Cain: what would you do to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? This debate is going to be all foreign policy, in contrast with all the previous debates, which have been mostly about domestic policy. Cain is probably under the most pressure in this debate, since there are so many questions about whether he has any foreign policy competence. Cain is sounding very polished and confident. [UPDATE: As you'll see in some of the commentary I've quoted near the end of this post, my remarks here were not prescient. Overall, Cain's performance in debating foreign policy tonight seems to have been rated very poorly.]
8:06 - Romney says that Iran is President Obama's "greatest failing" in foreign policy.
8:07 - A moderator calls time on Romney in the middle of his sentence, and Romney forcefully says that he still has time left because he sees the yellow light. The moderator says: "I stand corrected." [ADDED: Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo says:]
Mitt stands down [moderator] Scott Pelley as a meta-signal that he can stand down Iran.8:09 - Newt Gingrich: "There are many ways to be smart on Iran, and relatively few ways to be dumb, and this administration skipped all the ways to be smart." Gingrich makes a point to praise Cain's and Romney's answers on Iran.
8:15 - Santorum, in his answer on Iran policy, pointedly contrasts his own record with President Bush, saying that Bush wasn't willing to spend the money to implement Santorum's policy. Most of the debates have rarely mentioned Bush, but clearly Santorum believes that criticizing Bush is a way to win over Republican voters.
8:18 - Jon Huntsman: "I don't want to be nation-building in Afghanistan, when this nation so desperately needs to be built." He deemphasizes foreign policy as a whole, saying the main issues are the economy and education.
8:24 - Perry says he'll start out by giving "zero" foreign aid to all countries. "Then we can have a conversation" about whether to give any foreign aid to anyone. He strongly opposes foreign aid to Pakistan.
8:25 - I'm pretty sure Romney, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich all got multiple questions before Michele Bachmann got one.
8:26 - Bachmann: "President Obama has been willing to stand with Occupy Wall Street, but he will not stand with Israel. Israel looks at President Obama and they do not see a friend."
8:27 - Gingrich passionately agrees with Perry's answer on foreign aid. He accuses Pakistan of hiding Osama bin Laden.
8:28 - Santorum disagrees with much of what the others have said about Pakistan: "Pakistan must be a friend. . . . We need to continue the aid relationship. The aid is all spent in the United States; it's not sent over there."
8:34 - A moderator asks Gingrich: "Would you care to address Gov. Romney's ability to think outside the box and challenge national-security perspectives?" Gingrich: "No." The moderator points out that he did just that in a recent radio interview. Gingrich: "That's because I was on a radio show. We're having a debate to see who should run against President Obama."
As always, I'm writing down these quotes on the fly and probably won't catch all of them verbatim.
8:39 - Moderator to Perry: "As you said in the last debate, you advocate the elimination of the Department of Energy—" Perry: "Glad you remembered it!" Moderator: "I've had some to think about it." Perry: "Me too!" This, of course, gets a huge laugh. The moderator asks him how we're going to deal with nuclear weapons if we abolish the Department of Energy. Perry doesn't answer the question.
8:41 - Cain: "I do not agree with torture. Period." But he'll defer to the military's definition of torture. The moderator follows up to ask what he thinks about waterboarding. Cain: "I think it is an enhanced interrogation technique." He would bring back waterboarding.
8:42 - Bachmann also supports waterboarding. She says Obama seems to want (?) to lose the war on terror. Bachmann has clearly decided she needs to be as vociferously anti-Obama as possible.
8:42 - Ron Paul: "Torture is illegal . . . by our laws and international laws. Waterboarding is torture. It's illegal under our law and international law. It's also immoral. And it's also very impractical. There's no evidence that you get reliable evidence." [ADDED: Here's the video:]
8:45 - Romney agrees with Obama's policy of killing American citizens who are fighting with anti-American terrorists. The audience boos. Moderator to audience: "We will not have booing."
8:47 - Gingrich makes a powerful statement that the correct action in war is "to kill people who are trying to kill you," not about giving those people due process rights. He emphasizes that this is consistent with "the rule of law," because war is separate from the criminal justice system. His answer draws some vague heckling from the audience. [ADDED: Here's the video:]
8:50 - TPM posts a somewhat comical freeze-frame of Romney at the debate, supposedly watching Perry.
8:52 - After Romney gives his answer to a question on China, Huntsman makes an extremely wonky correction to Romney: "I don't think you can take China to the WTO on currency-related issues." Subtext: Romney is a former governor with no foreign-policy expertise; Huntsman was also a governor, but he's seasoned in foreign policy.
8:56 - Perry is asked whether his policy of bringing all foreign aid down to zero applies to Israel. Perry says yes. "In fact, we oughta do that with some of those agencies that I was trying to think the name of." (Yes, he did say "think the name of.")
9:03 - Josh Marshall writes:
I think we have to face the reality that with Rick Perry remaining lucid and not forgetting where he is, the entertainment value of these debates really goes off a cliff.9:05 - Paul is asked whether we should invade Syria and try to overthrow the Assad dictatorship. Unsurprisingly, he says no. Moderator: "But what about the 3,500 people dead [in Syria]?" Paul points out that the Soviet Union and China killed "hundreds of millions of people," and we didn't see fit to invade them.
9:08 - Senator Lindsey Graham, who's in the audience, asks a softball question about whether the candidates would maintain Obama's policies about "enhanced interrogation techniques" and trying some of the inmates at Guantanamo Bay in civilian court. Can the candidates say anything other than that they'd reverse Obama's policies? That's exactly what Cain says.
9:13 - Bachmann makes a highly incendiary charge against Ron Paul: that he was against authorizing the military to kill bin Laden. Paul says he supported "going after bin Laden," and was only "upset that it took 10 years."
9:14 - Josh Marshall points out something about CBS News that I had also noticed: the online streaming debate after the one-hour mark has been "almost unwatchable." [ADDED: Here's someone on Twitter who also calls it "unwatchable." Nate Silver of the New York Times gave up on watching after the first hour.] It keeps stopping and starting — and you don't get to hear the part that was going on while it stopped, so you miss out on big chunks of the debate and only get to hear partial sentences. Marshall says that National Journal's feed is better, but I'm not able to play that feed at all. I'm using a MacBook Pro with almost no other applications running, and I'm sure Marshall, one of the most successful bloggers in the world, has a decent internet setup.
9:15 - Romney says we should return Medicaid to the states, which would save $100 billion a year. (I thought this was the foreign-policy debate.)
9:20 - Bachmann says we need to eliminate every program President Lyndon B. Johnson gave us as "the Great Society." "If you look at China, they don't have food stamps. They save for their own retirement." Of course, Social Security is us saving for our retirement. It's just a way to pool everyone's money for some of those savings.
9:26 - Huntsman: "I've negotiated with Pakistanis, both in government and in business." This might be Huntsman's strongest debate. I'm not hearing him give his usual delicate circumlocutions.
The debate is over. As the camera pans away, I notice that Gingrich was positioned closer to the center than Perry, indicating that Gingrich is rising and Perry is slipping. (I'm pretty sure the lesser candidates like Huntsman and Santorum have always been at or near the end, and Romney is always in the middle.)
Josh Marshall, a committed Democrat, praises Santorum's performance. Half an hour into the debate, he wrote:
I don't agree with much that Rick Santorum believes in foreign policy, though his answer on Pakistan was pretty reasonable. Yet it's clear that he's one of the few guys up there who thought about any of these issues before he realized that he'd have to answer questions about them in a foreign policy debate.At the end, Marshall added:
Santorum is far and away the most lucid and knowledgable person on foreign policy.The prominent conservative blogger Erick Erickson pans Cain on Twitter:
It is safe to say Herman Cain is the biggest loser tonight. What a damn shame. Just wow.Similarly, Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic says:
Herman Cain seems much less confident, charismatic tonight. Equally uninformed as before.Cain did often seem like a deer in the headlights (though it was hard to tell because of CBS News's spluttering feed). Someone on Twitter named Sean Agnew seems to agree:
I don't want Cain answering the 3am call. #sorryStephen Hayes, who works for The Weekly Standard and Fox News, responds to an answer by Cain that I either wasn't paying attention to or couldn't hear in full because CBS News doesn't know how to do a live online feed:
Really? President Cain would have supported both Hosni Mubarak in Egypt? And Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen? Sheesh.Ben Smith at Politico says on Twitter:
Perry guy who sent a despairing 'sad' email after last debate now writes: "happy days here again! breaking out the bourbon!"On Twitter, "Jason (the Commenter)" (who also regularly comments here) puts 4 of the candidates on a spectrum:
Hates torture to loves torture: Paul, Huntsman, Cain, Bachmann.In the comments, Jason makes a very important point, which I had missed:
The biggest fail of the evening was Cain, who said that nine countries have nuclear weapons. You can only get that number if you include Israel, and they are adamant about neither confirming or denying that rumor. He threw them under the bus.Another thing I didn't notice: many people on Twitter are saying Perry coined a new word tonight: "forewithal." Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker says:
Perry comeback? On the one hand, he made a great joke. On the other he called into question alliance with Israel and said forewithal.