Thursday, January 19, 2012

Live-blogging the first Republican presidential debate since Rick Perry dropped out

The last debate until the possibly crucial South Carolina primary. We're now down to just four candidates: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul.

I'll be live-blogging here. Keep reloading this post (or the homepage) for more updates.

For more live-blogging, check out TalkingPointsMemo, National Review, and Althouse (my mom).

8:06 - Santorum gives the first introduction. He thanks Iowa for his victory there, which was just announced today.

8:08 - In Paul's introduction, he points out that he was an OB/GYN for 30 years and is the only veteran on the stage.

8:09 - The first question is to Gingrich, about the interview with his second wife, released today, in which she said he asked her if she would like to be in an open marriage. "I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that." This gets a standing ovation. "To take an ex-wife, and make her an issue two days before a primary, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine." Moderator John King notes that the story came from "another network" (ABC). Gingrich shouts at him: "You chose to start the debate with it! Don't try to blame it on somebody else!" Remember, Gingrich was asked in an earlier debate about marital fidelity, and he forcefully said it is a legitimate issue in a presidential race.

[ADDED: TalkingPointsMemo reports on that whole exchange and gives us the video:]

(As always, I'm writing down these quotes as I hear them, without a transcript or a rewind or pause button, so they might not be verbatim.)

8:14 - Romney is asked about Gingrich's ex-wife. "John, let's get on to the real issues, is all I've got to say." The left-leaning Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic says on Twitter:

So 10 minutes into the debate, I am agreeing with Gingrich and Romney. Gotta stay off the cold medication.
8:17 - Gingrich goes back to his usual adverb salad, calling for us to "fundamentally, radically overhaul" the Army Corps of Engineers.

8:20 - After Gingrich attacks Romney over Bain Capital, Romney says he expects "the left" to attack "capitalism," but "I find it kind of strange, on this stage, to have to explain how private equity and venture capital work and how they're successful and how they create jobs. . . . There's nothing wrong with profit, by the way. . . . It is capitalism and freedom that make America strong."

8:22 - Santorum positions himself to Romney's left: "I believe in capitalism too. Not necessarily high finance, but capitalism that works for the working men and women of this country."

8:36 - Santorum calls Romney's health care reform "a government-run system that was the basis for Obamacare" and "an abject disaster." He acts out how President Obama would predictably criticize Romney in a debate: Obama would say he got his plan from Romney. Romney denies that Romneycare is "government-run." He says Obamacare is worse because it cut Medicare and was 2,000 pages long. Santorum: "You do not draw a distinction that is going to be effective for us [Republicans in the general election]."

8:42 - Santorum to Gingrich on health care: "You supported the primary, core basis of what Obama has put in place." Gingrich brushes off the idea that he'd have trouble in a debate against Obama. Gingrich would tell him: "I was wrong and I figured it out. You were wrong and you didn't." Santorum: "It's not going to be the most attractive thing to say: 'I was wrong for 10 or 12 years.'"

8:51 - John King asks Santorum about Gingrich's recent comment that Santorum should drop out because he "doesn't have any of the knowledge about how to do something of this scale." Santorum has a great response: "Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. . . . Newt's a great guy and he's my friend, but at times, you just have that worrisome moment that something's going to pop!"

8:53 - Gingrich responds that he spent years working on "a grandiose project known as creating a Republican majority in the House. . . . You're right, I think grandiose thoughts." Santorum has a powerful rebuttal, pointing out that there was "a coup against him" after just 4 years of his tenure as Speaker of the House.

8:55 - We see Romney, with a slight grimace, watching the back-and-forth between Santorum and Gingrich, which has been going on for a very long time. Romney is probably happy to see those two beating each other up. Romney finally gets to speak, and he calls the interchange (in which Gingrich described his congressional experience going back to the 1970s) "a perfect example of why we should send to Washington someone who hasn't been to Washington."

8:58 - Romney takes a gratuitous swipe at Gingrich, saying he read President Reagan's diary, and Romney noticed that Gingrich is mentioned exactly once — just to say Gingrich proposed a bad idea and Reagan dismissed it. Romney oddly adds that Reagan also mentioned Romney's dad (George Romney, who was Governor of Michigan), exactly once.

9:04 - Santorum is asked when he'll release his tax returns. He gives a folksy answer: "I do my own taxes, and they're on my home computer, and I'm not home. So until I get home, nobody can release my taxes. When I get home, I'll release 'em."

9:05 - Romney: "I didn't inherit money from my parents. What I have, I earned."

9:06 - Romney says — and I agree — that "dividing America between 99[%] and 1[%] is dangerous. We are one nation."

9:10 - My mom writes:
I say: "Santorum's on fire." Then: "He is flamboyant."
That's a reference to a comment Santorum made that he's not "flamboyant," implicitly contrasting himself with Gingrich. I agree that Santorum is having a great debate.

9:11 - Gingrich is asked about SOPA. He's against it. "I favor freedom. If a company finds that it has been infringed upon, it has the right to sue." But the federal government shouldn't try to preemptively enforce intellectual property law by taking heavy-handed action against websites that happen to host infringing content.

9:13 - Romney agrees with Gingrich on SOPA: "The law as written is far too intrusive, far too expansive. It would have a depressing effect on one of the fastest growing industries, the internet. . . . I'm standing for freedom."

9:15 - Santorum is also against SOPA, but he doesn't think "anything goes on the internet." Of course, none of the candidates took that position, nor would any reasonable person.

9:21 - The candidates are asked what they would do differently in this campaign if they could do it over. Gingrich wishes he hadn't spent the first 3 months talking to consultants about "how to be a normal candidate," so he could have gotten straight to regaling us with his brilliant ideas.

9:22 - Romney: "I'd have worked to get 25 more votes in Iowa, that's for sure."

9:23 - Santorum: "I wouldn't change a thing. For me to be standing here in the final 4 is about as amazing a thing as I can conceive of happening."

9:28 - Romney says the illegal immigration issue is "not tough." Then why haven't we solved it yet?

9:33 - Santorum tries to make a point (which isn't clear to me) about how Romney has flip-flopped on immigration. Romney responds: "I agree with you. I'm sorry you don't recognize my agreement."

9:37 - Gingrich: "Romney has said he had an experience in a lab and became pro-life. And I accept that." But Gingrich adds that Romneycare isn't pro-life.

9:38 - Romney: "I'm not questioned on character and integrity very often." I like Romney, but it's hard to listen to that with a straight face.

9:42 - Finally, they can unambiguously refer to "Rick."

9:43 - Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum talk about abortion, and then John King says he's going to move on to another issue. The audience collectively roars: "Ron Paul!" King gives in and spontaneously asks Paul about abortion before moving on to the next question.

9:53 - In a dramatic turnaround from how he started out the debate, Gingrich begins his closing remarks by thanking CNN.

The debate is over. Rich Lowry says on Twitter:
if newt wins SC, he'll have juan williams and john king to thank
But Mickey Kaus (also on Twitter) is skeptical:
Not sure Newt has won debate, even if his clip dominates news. Voters seem to pay attention to actual debates this year, not just news recap
Kaus also gives this sharp analysis:
If debate helps Romney it's mainly because Santorum did well, no? Puts anti-Romneyites back in self-defeating split array.