8:40 – Romney, Huckabee and Brownback have a back-and-forth about whether faith guides their decisionmaking. Brownback wins with this soundbite: "As my colleague Senator Lieberman – a Jew! – says…"
8:42 – If Duncan Hunter is president, we'll have a real border fence – not a "little, scraggly fence."
8:43 – Gilmore slips into third-person self-love faster than Bob Dole used to.
8:44 – Tancredo: "Karl Rove would certainly never be in the White House I inhabited." The audience might not get the reason for that. Hint: Mexicans.
8:45 – Thompson, on his record as governor: "I vetoed turteen hunnerd tings!"
8:46 – Brownback blames congressional corruption, in a roundabout way, on "things like Don Imus said on the radio being sold to teenagers!"
8:48 – McCain gets angry at "the special interests" who "we gave hi-definition TV to!" In related news, John McCain has just nuked Best Buy.
8:50 – To punish McCain for going over time on his last answer, McCain is… asked another softball question.
8:52 – Romney finally, finally attacks McCain-Feingold in the course of explaining why the president must be pro-life. He has to be able to campaign for bans on abortion procedures, unless he can't do so "because of the McCain-Feingold law." Which, you know, restricts third-party groups and not presidents.
8:53 – Matthews invokes Logan's Run to Rudy: "We'll have to kill you now because it's a red light."
8:55 – Quick: Someone explain why Duncan Hunter deserves twice as much debating time as Ron Paul. The winner gets a copy of Human Action.
8:56 – Paul gets the first question that really trips him up, on whether he's ever had to made a life-or-death decision. He blathers about being a doctor for a bit before coming up an answer about the war… which is cut off by an obviously bored Matthews.
8:59 – Duncan Hunter patronizes Nancy Reagan: "I'd like to show her the alternatives to embryonic stem cell research." What a charmer.
9:00 – Matthews specifically says that everyone needs to give a yes or no answer on stem cell research. Remarkably, he lets McCain wax poetically about when he came home from Vietnam and Nancy Reagan was so kind to him and so on and so forth. To Matthews' credit, he also lets Paul drone on a little bit.
9:02 – When Romney gets a question about deep policy wonkery, he sounds as comfortable as a retiree easing into a lawn chair and sucking on a pipe.
9:04 – Huckabee wants to get rid of the I.R.S. and boosts Neal Boortz's Fair Tax. Tancredo wants to do that while repealing the 16th Amendment, and somewhere in Nevada Aaron Russo kicks his TV.
9:06 – Paul has already promised to get rid of the I.R.S. so he uses the tax question to rail against inflation. He gets this close to talking about the gold standard, but refers instead to "sound money."
9:08 – McCain puzzles over whether anyone would make a better cabinet secretary than Joe Lieberman.
9:10 – The candidates are asked if they believe in evolution – Tancredo and a few others raise their hands to say they don't. McCain: "I believe in evolution, but I also believe that when I hike the Grand Canyon and see a sunset, the hand of God is there."
9:11 – Romney "The best work that goes on in America goes on between the four walls of homes." Also, we need to "get more marriages with more babies." I think Kerry Howley's found her candidate.
9:12 – Paul says he trusts "some of" the mainstream media. However: "I trust the internet a lot more, and I trust freedom of expression, and that's why I've never voted to regulate the internet."
9:13 – Sam Brownback: "I think personal beliefs of everybody shape everybody." As Brownback himself might say: Jesus Christ.
9:14 – Huckabee thinks the most important thing a president can do is… stop outsourcing. And if Republicans can't stop it, they "don't deserve to win in 2008." If you zoom in to the podium, you can see him giving Pat Toomey the finger.
9:17 – Rudy: A national ID card is "critical to maintaining national security." Not a surprising stance. Romney shamelessly, deliciously piggybacks on Giuliani's subtle 9/11 reference by noting that he had to plan the post-9/11 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
9:19 – Matthews asks of the national ID card: "Is someone against this on libertarian grounds?" And he calls on… Sam Brownback. If there was any doubt, Ron Paul is the creepy kid who the teacher refuses to call on.
9:20 – Paul recovers a little, after he's called on for the ID card issue, to say it's antithetical to what government stands for. Tancredo's libertarian roots show and he opposes it, too. When Matthews follows up with Romney and Giuliani, they clarify that they want an ID card for immigrants, not citizens. It's by far the most heated and confused round of the debate.
9:22 – Paul uses the inevitable "would you pardon Scooter Libby?" question to blast the Iraq War. Tancredo uses it to say he'd first pardon the border guards who are in jail for shooting at a drug dealer. TheLoneWackoBlog uses it to say "Dave Weigel blows!"
9:25 – There's a round about Matthews' pet peeve – whether Bill Clinton should return to the White House as First Lady. Ron Paul: "I am noted for sticking to principle and not flip-flopping. I voted to impeach him! And…" and his joke is cut off by the surprising sound of camaraderie and laughter. Seriously, though – Duncan Hunter voted to impeach Clinton, and McCain and Brownback voted to remove him from office. Why didn't they mention that?
9:30 – In the long-expected "What did Bush fuck up, and how would you un-fuck it?" round, Giuliani praises Bush's leadership on "September 11, 2001" and Ron Paul says he would never abuse Habeas Corpus.
9:33 – Matthews' devious "ignore Ron Paul" plan backfires when Paul gets the last word in the debate. And yet afterwards, no one wants to talk to him – Romney dives offstage to mug with Nancy Reagan, and Paul is left huddling with Tancredo. It looks not unlike the Math Olympics team sitting at the back of homeroom as the popular kids talk about the awesome kegger at Todd's house this weekend.
IN CONCLUSION: All of my predictions fell flat, except, arguably for the Gilmore one. (You could make a strong case that Tommy Thompson lost.) The Hillary lightning round made my Obama prediction look especially bad, although my point in making that prediction was that the GOP has lost it mojo for Hillary-bashing. I still think that's true, given the candidates' answers.