The first Republican presidential debate starts at 8 p.m. ET, and I'll be following it on this thread. Some predictions before it kicks off:
– The frontrunners will praise President Bush. Romney and McCain especially will praise Bush's veto of the Iraq supplemental. Remember, Republican primary voters still love Bush and love the war, and for them the veto's the best thing he's done since the Alito nomination.
– Romney will say he can take back Congress for the GOP.
– They'll all bash Obama more than they bash any other Democratic candidate.
– They'll trash Pelosi and Reid more than they trash Obama.
– Duncan Hunter will repeat his call for Harry Reid to resign, which got zero attention the first time around and will get slightly more than zero attention this time, unless he gets some other candidate to agree with him.
– Ron Paul will be the only candidate who attacks the war. Sam Brownback, who used to be against the surge, won't attack it.
– Jim Gilmore will lose.
And we begin with Chris Matthews impersonating Robin Leach.
8:01—Ron Paul is situated between Rudy and McCain. Try and crop that out, gold standard-haters!
8:03—Rudy Giuliani claims we have the greatest health care system in the world and it needs to be fixed.
8:05—And John McCain is the first to angrily denounce Harry Reid. He sounds as crazy as he does in Matt Welch's nightmares.
8:06—Tommy Thompson offers a detailed Iraq strategy that involves… letting the Iraqis vote for their own leaders.
8:08—Romney wants to leave Iraq once we can be certain it will no longer have conflicts and crises with its neighbors. IE, never.
8:10—Brownback wants us to "engage moderate Muslim regimes like Pakistan and Egypt," which we currently have diplomatic relations with and dispense foreign aid to.
8:11—Huckabee blames the problems in Iraq on "listening to the guys in silk ties and striped suits." Creeping anti-Semitism? (I'm kidding.)
8:13—Jim Gilmore: "I see this Iraq problem as part of an entire Middle East issue." And who can argue?
8:14—Ron Paul is asked why everyone on stage was wrong about the war, and Paul sticks to "a policy of non-intervention." He's a bit loud, but more concise than usual: "Think of how Eisenhower won the Korean War, think of how Nixon was elected to end the mess in Vietnam." Basically he reads the paleocon playbook much more clearly than anyone expected.
8:15—You know, the GOP's reputation as the "party of national security" comes, in part, from the fact that their leaders seem so comfortable gaming out wars.
8:17—Tancredo sets off a wave of grumbling among American Conservative subscribers by saying he'd let slip the dogs of war to defend Israel.
8:20—Jim Gilmore's rationale for running makes sense on paper, when you look at everyone's issue stands. On stage, when everyone's discussing the war, he's having no luck sounding different than the poll leaders.
8:21—Mitt Romney's defense for saying he didn't care about capturing Osama bin Laden? "I don't want to buy into the Democratic idea that this is about one man."
8:22—McCain is asked if he'd put Tom Tancredo in charge of the INS. "In a word, no." He then says he'd "follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell" and then—and this really rewards the use of a Tivo—flashes a Joker-like grin.
8:23—Matthews asks everyone if they'd support an amendment to allow foreigners—i.e., Arnold—to run for president. Ron Paul says no, because "I believe in original intent." Matthews says—into the mic!—"Oh, God."
8:25—So why doesn't Matthews say "Oh, God" when Romney blathers about loving "America's rolling hills?" Cornpone = good. Constitution = meh.
8:26—Tancredo gets a question about legally selling organs—he punts and says we shouldn't be cloning organs.
8:27—Duncan Hunter declares war on Iran.
8:28—Paul promises to phase out the I.R.S. by "changing our ideas about what the government should do"—scaling it back, avoiding foreign adventures.
8:29—Brownback says the repeal of Roe would mark "A glorious day of human liberty and freedom."
8:30—In a rather blase manner, Giuliani says he'd welcome the end of Roe and—nudge! nudge!—a court of conservative judges could do that for you.
8:32—Romney's Harvard MBA-speak is ill-suited to talking about his change of heart on abortion—he's a human PowerPoint presentation.
8:33—Giuliani flip-flops on public funding of abortion—he supports the Hyde Amendment, which he didn't support a couple of minutes ago.
8:35—McCain uses a short question to launch a cliche-fattened speech.
8:36—Huckabee says we are a great nation because "We are a culture of life." By that reasoning, if we got into a shooting war with the Vatican, would we lose?
8:37—Paul is asked how to rectify national greatness and the culture of life. He launches into another anti-war argument, with an attempt at a soundbite. "The freedom message brings us together. It does not divide us."
8:38—Thompson, who sounds like a corpse exhaling its Ka, defends the right of businesses to fire based on sexual orientation. Seriously, he sounds awful.