Thursday, January 26, 2012

Live-blogging the last Republican presidential debate before the Florida primary

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

You can see my previous live-blogs by clicking on the "live-blog" tag.

For more live-blogging of tonight's debate, I recommend checking out TalkingPointsMemo, National Review, or Althouse (my mom).

As always, I'll write down any quotes in real time, so they might not be verbatim but I'll try to get them as close as possible.

8:07 - A harmonically rich arrangement of the national anthem.

8:08 - Rick Santorum introduces his 93-year-old mother. We see her standing up as the crowd applauds her. Then Santorum says: "I'd better stop there."

8:10 - Santorum is asked what he thinks of Mitt Romney's statement in the last debate that government should nudge illegal immigrants into choosing to "self-deport." Santorum strongly agrees.

8:13 - Newt Gingrich's rebuttal: "I don't think grandmothers and grandfathers will 'self-deport.'"

8:15 - Romney: "I don't think anybody is interested in running around the country and rounding up 11 million Americans — excuse me, illegal immigrants . . ."

8:16 - This is the first time I can remember seeing an exception to what I thought seemed to be a rule:

Is there some rule that every debate needs to bring up immigration, but only near the end? There seems to be some consensus that immigration is so important that it always needs to be debated, but it's unimportant enough to wait till the audience has stopped paying attention.
8:17 - Gingrich points out that if we tried to deport illegal immigrants, they'd "end up in a church, which would give them sanctuary." "We're not gonna walk in there and grab a grandmother out and then kick 'em [sic] out."

8:18 - Gingrich says Romney is the most anti-immigrant candidate in the race. Romney responds very forcefully, taking umbrage at the "highly charged epithet." "I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My mother was born in Wales." Gingrich coyly says he'd like to hear what term Romney would like to have applied to himself.

Jonah Goldberg's take on that exchange:
That was Mitt's best counterattack in 10 debates.
8:21 - Romney to Gingrich: "Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers."

8:23 - Romney oddly says: "I think English should be the official language of the United States, as it is." No it isn't.

8:25 - Ana Marie Cox says on Twitter:
Newt: "No one should get trapped in a linguistic situation." Too late for poor Rick Perry...
8:31 - Gingrich: "The contracts I signed with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said I would do 'no consulting.'" And we know that everyone always does what it says in contracts.

8:31 - Romney's response to Gingrich's attack on him for investing in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: "My investments for the past 10 years have not been made by me. They're in a blind trust." Romney gives more details on how these investments are made, and then asks Gingrich if it sounds familiar. An awkward pause, and then Romney points out to Gingrich: "You also have investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac!"

8:37 - Santorum pleads for an end to the personal attacks on Gingrich and Romney: "Can we set aside that Newt Gingrich was a member of Congress and used the skills he gained there to advise companies, and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because he worked hard?"

8:42 - Moderator Wolf Blitzer asks Gingrich about comments he's made criticizing Romney for investing in the Cayman Islands and Swiss banks. Gingrich echoes Santorum, saying we should just talk about "governing the country." Blitzer points out that Gingrich made those attacks just a few days ago. Gingrich glibly says he's not going to talk about it tonight, even though he's "perfectly happy to say that in an interview on a TV show." (Yes, those are Gingrich's words about himself!) Romney: "Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else that they're not willing to make here?" Romney again explains how his investments were made (by an independent trustee, so that Romney wouldn't have any conflicts of interest). Then he launches into a powerful defense of the fact that he's earned his money, invested that money, and realized big returns on his investments. I've been tired of the personal attacks on Romney for a while, so I find him very appealing here.

8:49 - Wolf Blitzer points out that if Ron Paul were elected, he'd be the oldest president ever when inaugurated. Blitzer asks if he'll release his medical records. Paul: "Obviously, because it's about 1 page, if even that long. I'm willing to challenge anyone up here to a 25-mile bike ride in the heat of Texas." He jokingly adds: "You know, there are laws against age discrimination, so if you push this too much, you'd better be careful!" Gingrich chimes in: "He's in great shape."

8:53 - Gingrich is asked how he can be in favor of colonizing the moon and dramatically lowering taxes. Of course, he doesn't explain it. "I'd like to see an American on the moon before the Chinese get there." Why?

8:55 - Santorum smartly calls out Gingrich for his fiscal irresponsibility in calling for lavish new funding of the space program.

8:55 - Paul: "I don't think we should go to the moon. I think we should send some politicians up there sometimes."

8:57 - Gingrich implausibly claims that under his leadership, the space program would suddenly become 90% privatized.

8:58 - Romney says that if he were still working in business and someone made a proposal like Gingrich's space program, he'd say: "You're fired." I'm glad to see that Romney hasn't been cowed by the absurd attacks on him for saying he likes being able to fire people who aren't doing good work.

9:00 - Paul calls out Gingrich for claiming to have balanced the budget, saying the debt skyrocketed by a trillion dollars when Gingrich was Speaker. Gingrich seems to have no disagreement with this!

9:05 - Romney highlights the negative unintended consequences of the tax deductions for employers' health care plans: most Americans get health insurance through their employer, so they stop getting health insurance if they lose their job or even decide to change jobs. I completely agree with Romney that this is a huge problem.

9:09 - Santorum attacks Romney and Gingrich for supporting a mandate to buy health insurance. Gingrich claims that he didn't support a mandate at the federal level. Really?

9:11 - Romney makes his usual move of explaining why Romneycare was a good idea, without being clear on how any of his points are different from Obamacare. Santorum points this out: "What he just said is factually incorrect. Your mandate is no different from Barack Obama's mandate."

9:23 - Wolf Blitzer asks every candidate why his wife would make the best First Lady. Paul says his wife, Carol Paul, wrote a cookbook. Romney describes Ann Romney's battles with multiple sclerosis and cancer. Gingrich rejects the premise that Callista Gingrich would necessarily be the best First Lady, since the other candidates' wives are all fantastic; however, Callista would bring "an artistic flavor." Santorum says his wife, Karen Santorum, was a neonatal intensive care nurse for 9 years. She became interested in the ethical issues raised in that job, so she got a law degree, but she left the legal field to become a mother of 7. She wrote a book on their experience losing a child, and she also wrote a Christianity-based book on manners. [Correction: Santorum didn't explicitly say that the manners book was based on Christianity, though it might have been. Santorum just said it teaches manners "through stories," which is "how Christ taught us."]

9:30 - Romney admits: "I became more conservative when I was governor."

9:34 - Paul is asked what he'd say if President of Cuba Raul Castro called him. "I'd ask what he was calling about!"

9:36 - Nate Silver (on Twitter) makes a good point:
A basic debate skill is looking for opportunities to go on offense when you're losing. Newt seems to lack it, or doesn't know he's losing.
9:40 - Romney and Gingrich give the expected answers on Israel: they'll always side with Israel, and Palestinians need to recognize Israel's right to exist.

9:43 - Here's an issue I didn't expect to come up: should Puerto Rico become a state? Santorum says Puerto Rico should get a plebiscite to voice their opinion on the issue, but Santorum himself takes no position. Wolf Blitzer simplistically says: "I'll take that as a maybe!"

9:47 - The candidates are asked about the role of religion in government. Gingrich talks about what it means to be "truly faithful." Does he really want to pitch himself as the expert in being faithful? Then he launches into his usual hyperbole about how the news media and the courts are "waging a war" against Christianity.

9:49 - Santorum says all constitutional rights come from God, not the state. They can't come from the state, or else "everything can be taken away." "The role of the government is to protect rights that cannot be taken away." I don't buy this mysticism about legal rights.

9:58 - As the debate is wrapping up, National Review's Rich Lowry says:
newt has lost the debate and prob the primary


Bob Ellison said...

Wake me up when someone loses.

rcommal said...

Nice job. I had to be gone for first half of the debate, so this helped get me up to speed (though I will watch the rerun later, assuming they rerun it).

Jason (the commenter) said...

I agree, Newt lost the debate. Romney kept him from getting any sound bites with help from Ron Paul.

crosspatch said...

"I don't buy this mysticism about legal rights."

I think the notion was to have a certain baseline of rights originating from a source that no human could rise above. Having the notion that certain fundamental rights were given by a "higher authority" than any human could claim dominion over seems reasonable given the culture at the time. Anyone claiming to outrank God would be looked upon as crazy. People could get away with that today. Maybe we should change the constitution to have these rights endowed by the Internet. Nobody outranks the Internet.

crosspatch said...

Eh, it was the Declaration, not the Constitution. Oh, well.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Did he not mention constitutional rights? If not, I'll edit that sentence, but that doesn't change my disagreement with him.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Here's the full quote from Santorum (from this live transcript):

"The Constitution is the How, the operating manual. The Why is our religion. The Constitution is there to protect our God-given rights. Not government-given rights. Faith has everything to do with it. If our president believes that rights come from the state than everything can be taken away. I believe in faith and reason and I want to say that there are foundational things that have changed the world."

crosspatch said...

He might have mentioned Constitutional rights, but the unalienable rights endowed by our Creator is from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.

crosspatch said...

The whole premise of the Constitution is that the federal government can not grant rights because it has none to grant. The federal government has only the rights specifically granted to it by the Constitution and no more. The state governments have ALL rights except those explicitly denied them in the Constitution and the people reserve all rights not specifically given to the federal and state governments.

So in the Constitution, the people can't be "given" a right by the federal government because they already have all rights.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I see, you just meant the Declaration of Independence has the line about being endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights.

It's worth noting that the Declaration has no legal force. The Constitution does. The Constitution is a legally binding document with a set of rules. Some of them express broad principles, but the rules are then interpreted to have more specific content by the Supreme Court and other courts. Does the fact that government confers these rights mean that government could take them away? Well, yes! The government could turn into a dictatorship that radically restricts speech. Obviously, some governments have done that. This may be an uncomfortable thought and one that disturbs Rick Santorum, but it's true.

John Althouse Cohen said...

The state governments have ALL rights except those explicitly denied them in the Constitution and the people reserve all rights not specifically given to the federal and state governments.

Well, many people criticize the 10th Amendment as being an empty truism. And it's not clear to me that the 10th Amendment shows the federal government's inability to confer rights. You could read it as saying the opposite: the federal government confers rights on the states and the people by not delegating those rights to itself.

crosspatch said...

"the federal government confers rights on the states and the people by not delegating those rights to itself."

Not exactly because the federal government can't amend the Constitution. It must first pass the Congress, but it must be ratified by the states. So those rights do get granted by the people to the federal government. The problem comes in when you have legal opinions that seem to create rights out of whole cloth.

I am thinking here about the Texas rancher who the Supreme Court said could not feed his cattle the grain he grew himself without complying with federal regulations because it was covered under interstate commerce even though the grain never left his property. The reasoning being that if he fed the cattle his own grain, he was not buying grain and if he bought grain, some if it might come from out of state and be subject to federal regulations. Therefore, by feeding his cattle his own grain, it was interstate commerce by proxy, or something.

It is almost like requiring someone update their 1965 Chevy to modern emission standards because by not buying a new car, they were impacting interstate commerce in cars so the federal regulations would no apply to the car because you didn't buy a new one. In other words, dumb. That is a ruling that really needs to be overturned, in my opinion. It is just plain wrong.

crosspatch said...


so the federal regulations would now apply to the car

Winefred said...

What Santorum said was: 'The foundational documents of our country -- everybody talks about the Constitution, very, very important. But the Constitution is the "how" of America. It's the operator's manual. The "why" of America, who we are as a people, is in the Declaration of Independence...' [contra John A. Cohen, above] Santorum moved on from there to matters of faith and religion, but he did not posit it as the why of governance. Just for the record.

Writ Small said...


Very nice job as usual. First time comment, but I always read your debate coverage.

amba said...

I quite agree that Newt lost the debate. Just visually, he suffered from being between two taller, younger, shapelier men. And he seemed to shrink in every other way, too, like a balloon that was losing air.

amba said...

Newt also talked too fast and swallowed his words. He seemed to be mumbling to himself, almost.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Newt also talked too fast and swallowed his words. He seemed to be mumbling to himself, almost.

I also noticed that there were at least a couple times when the end of his sentence was unintelligible. Gingrich is not usually shy about saying his sentences so people can hear them. Something was wrong with him last night.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Santorum moved on from there to matters of faith and religion, but he did not posit it as the why of governance. Just for the record.

No, that is not what he said. He said our rights come from God. This is in accord with the Declaration of Independence, but he didn't say that document is the actual source of our legal rights. He said God is the source.

I'm saying I disagree because the Constitution (and other laws) are actually the source of our legal rights. We have the rights only to the extent government grants them. I wish that weren't true; I wish the right to speak freely and to receive due process in court were inviolable elements of nature. But the legal system of one country is not the same thing as nature. For instance, people in America have a constitutional right to have guns. Anyone who thinks that's built into nature is mistaken. The guns themselves were created by people, and the legal system giving them the right to keep guns (as long as they follow all applicable regulations) was also created by people.