Republican Debate V: The Demolition Derby in Durham


The fifth Republican presidential debate starts at 9 p.m. ET, right when a rival event will be wrapping up. So I plan to liveblog it but I might get a late start.

The debate will appear on Fox News and feature eight Republican candidates, minus Fred Thompson, after negotiations to let him bring his sofa onto the stage collapsed at the 11th hour.

Consider this an open thread.

9:04: The panderpalooza begins! Every candidate is happier to be in New Hampshire than Los Angeles, like the dastardly Fred Dalton Thompson. Brit Hume smartly gives the first "bash Thompson" ticket to Mike Huckabee, who riffs like he was schooled by Yakov Smirnoff.

9:05: Ron Paul forgoes a joke: "Fred Thompson will dilute my opponents' votes, because he's pro-war and I'm the anti-war candidate!"

9:06: John McCain takes a whack at Thompson's age and laziness: "Maybe we're up past his bedtime!" Then he chucks that advantage into the garbage by quoting Mo Udall. "Remember, people—I'm old and I lose elections."

9:07: Mitt Romney's software malfunctions and he repeats the Thompson joke he told days ago: "What's the hurry? Get in in January." Polite laughter.

9:08: Giuliani doesn't repeat a joke, but he tells the one everyone's been prodding him to tell: "Fred's done a good job playing me on Law and Order."

9:09: Romney takes a barb about his own hiring of illegal workers and neatly repackages it as proof that amnesty doesn't work. So, what happened to his garden?

9:10: Time for Giuliani to defend his 1990s immigration squishiness. He gets, after a while, to the safe answer: "The city eventually got safer."

9:12: Nice one, Chris Wallace, nailing McCain on his newfound support for enforcement-only immigration law. "It's an emotional issue." True. "Why we failed is because the American people have lost confidence in us." Ah, that was the problem. If only Americans could become more confident in legislators?

9:14: Now that Mike Huckabee has momentum he's getting blasted by his old quotes instead of pitched softballs about evolution. Does he still think anti-immigration sentiment is racist? No, Americans are good people, but they want "secure borders." They want the government to have as good a handle on human traffic as Amazon.com has on book orders, which isn't dehumanizing at all. Witness the slow slide towards predictibility of Mike Huckabee!

9:16: Tancredo blows the immigration question, whining and yelling about how the rest of the candidates didn't come around to his position until they got humiliated. "It's about the rule of law!" He's getting nowhere with this: it's a circular argument.

9:18: It was funny the first time Duncan Hunter decried "scraggly little fences." Less so now.

9:19: We cut to a diner in New Hampshire where an immigration lawyer and her cop husband are being accosted by Fox News cameras. The cop says he's "overwhelmed" by illegals, so Cameron nicely edits what he's trying to say and asks "How do you not call [what Rudy supports] amnesty?"

9:20: Rudy dodges with another New York story and a plea for a "technological fence."

9:21: John McCain boldly comes out against forgiveness (the dictionary definition of "amnesty"). Come on, hasn't he been torn up enough on this issue? Isn't it basically dodo-dead in the Senate?

9:22: McCain finally finds a way to tie immigration to war: He's all for giving citizenship to brave soldiers.

9:23: "Close down the sanctuary cities," says Romney, who as we'll all remember sent Massachusetts state troopers to raze Cambridge when he was governor and it was–as now–a sanctuary city.

9:24: A Larry Craig question makes Brownback's eyes scrunch up to an even more uncomfrotable size. He comes out against Craig's un-resignation: "We shouldn't walk away from family values because instances like this happen in our party."

9:26: Duncan Hunter wants the scraggly little Larry Craig to resign and bashes Barney Frank. (Who else could he be referring to: A Democrat with "these problems" who became a committee chairman?) At least he's ending his political career with class, you know?

9:28: Romney wilts with a fluffy answer about abortion and "changing hearts and minds." Republican voters want you to give David Souter a blanket party and replace him with Ann Coulter, Mitt. They don't worry about the hearts and minds.

9:29: Mike Huckabee supports human beings. Take that, Ron Paul! His dog whistling abilities are excellent, though—among the humans he wants to protect are "people in long-term care facilities," meaning Terri Schiavo. Iowan voters know what he's talking about and they start to feel all tingly.

9:31: Rudy Giuliani has this great, fabricated belly laugh he unleashes whenever someone quotes Fred Thompson to him. He recites NYC crime numbers and says, sure, states can let college students carry guns to prevent Virginia Tech II.

9:32: Wendell Goler, who asked Ron Paul the 9/11 question last time, asks why he thinks armed passengers could have prevented 9/11 since "planes get diverted when people hear Arabic." Paul really nails this one. He challenges Goler's framing, pointing out that he said government bungling and rule-setting, overuling what airlines wanted, was the problem.

9:34: Brownback manages to blow a same-sex marriage question by admitting kids can be raised in single-parent households.

9:39: Goler likes to throw McCain's angry campaign trail quotes back at him, probably because he seems like a different person on this stage–quiet, sober. He amusingly takes/doesn't take credit for the surge. "I've advocated the same strategy, which some Democrats call the McCain strategy, which it is not."

9:41: Why is Rudy qualified to lead a nation at war with terrorists, given that he was just a mayor of New York? He reveals that, well, that's good enough–he mentions a bunch of non-terrorism related crises that he fixed, and you can sense the patriotic fibers in GOP voters' backs stiffening. "Hell yes, he cut the crime rate–he can calm down the Middle East!" Rudy says "I'm not running on September 11," which… come on, how can anyone snark about that? Oscar Wilde wouldn't have a bon mot for that.

9:43: "The surge has worked!" says Romney. "No, the surge is working!" says McCain. The debate that's tearing the GOP apart!

9:45: McCain wants "peace with honor," which is the way to calm down the Middle East, as Islamic terrorists are usually calmed right down by hubris.

9:46: Ron Paul just smacks aside the idea that any conventional wisdom about Iraq could be right.

9:47: Chris Wallace: "You're saying we should take our marching orders from al Qaeda?" Paul: "No, I'm saying we should take our marching orders from the Constitution!" The rest of the candidates are actually laughing during this. Paul missteps when he says the Iraq War was against "international law"–I don't think I need to explain why–and Rudy dives for another chance at the punching bag like he had the last time Fox hosted one of these debates. Surprisingly, the moderators go to the only man who could euthanize this right now: Sam "the human quaalude" Brownback.

9:49: Huckabee wants to stay in Iraq because when he picked things up at the general store he had to pay for them.

9:50: Notice how everyone is complimenting John McCain tonight? Notice how Romney is attacking Rudy and ignoring McCain? That's not a coincidence.

9:52: This is really good TV. Huckabee and Ron Paul go all Lincoln-Douglas on Iraq, Huckabee saying amazing things like "we are one nation–when we make a mistake, we make it together!" and Paul saying "we correct that mistake!" Huckabee's actually one of the least credible candidates to argue about honor and blood-n-guts warfare (he's famous for losing weight, not scrapping with Charlie). He gets applause for mouthing the party line, but Paul cleans his clock.

9:54: Duncan Hunterzzzzzzzz

9:56: Tancredo: "Wouldn't it be lovely if we could just leave Iraq?" Well, yes. But that would be a problem because we need to blow up some desert people.

9:57: Some more about Paul. He's making the kind of missteps that would destroy a frontrunning campaign—"international law," saying we made a mistake by going into "Afghanistan". But he's not getting tossed around or clowned the way he did in the first Fox debate. His loud "No!" when Chris Wallace accused him of siding with al Qaeda was the product of experience: Last time, he didn't say "no" when Goler accused him of saying we deserved 9/11.

9:59: A military dad is honestly, spittingly angry about Romney comparing his sons' work for his campaign with kids "serving their country" in the army. Romney absolutely fails to convey emotion when he apologizes. This guy is a good-looking Dukakis.

10:01: Romney wants to bug mosques because "the most important thing is keeping us alive."

10:02: Oh, come on–we're rehashing the Jack Bauer round of the last Fox debate? Tancredo, for the record, would use his presidential power to torture terrorists if they're making us unsafe. But for the "T" word, think "go to great lengths."

10:04: Hm. Why, of all people does John McCain think he needs to quote someone else to get some credibility on torture?

10:05: Giuliani has never heard of rendition.

10:06: President Duncan Hunter would detain Gitmo prisoners indefinitely. And he's tired of them getting honey-glazed chicken and gaining weight and having people pay attention to them. *sniff*

10:08: Is Brownback high? His question is about the Vice Presidency and he's rambling about how "this is a big international country" like he's in the running for Miss Teen South Carolina.

10:10: Hah. McCain tries to twist a question about his not signing the "no tax hike" pledge into a bold pledge to "veto any pork barrel bill that comes across my desk." He was pretty obviously against supply-side taxes for a while, but the people who care about this issue aren't worried about McCain winning anymore.

10:13: Giuliani: "You take one pledge: To upload the Constitution of the United States." Yes, fine, we know he's mostly running on 9/11, but give him some credit for not taking a position on anything he's been asked to do since 9/11. It all comes back to what he did in NYC, which works with Republican voters, lucky enough.

10:15: Romney, by contrast, makes offhand references to what he did in Massachusetts and then promises the moon. He manages to make a lame John Edwards joke, but lame John Edwards jokes in this crowd are like gerbils thrown in a tank of pirhanas.

10:18: Huckabee claims the Fair Tax would hit prostitution, too. I'm not sure how that works. Do prostitutes add the local sales tax to their fees?

10:19: I'm sorry, could the other candidates giggle a little louder at Ron Paul? Thanks.

10:20: Paul thinks we do need intelligence-gathering "but we need the people analyzing that to be intelligent." Knocks intelligence spending, knocks the department of Homeland Security. Perhaps sensing that he might not get another question, he pledges to restore our liberties. "Ha, ha!" says Rudy.

10:21: Hey, Rudy, how can you lead on family values since you sleep around and your kids hate you. Rudy: Ignore my private life and look at my public works. Hate the sinner, love the sins. "My problems aren't that different from some people in this country… I'm not running as the perfect candidate, I'm running as a human being."

10:26: Damn, this is the hypothetical question? I was hoping for "One of Rudy Giuliani's wives and Larry Craig walk into a bar…"

10:28: Brit Hume goes for the easy laffs–or so he thinks!–by pitching an Iran doomsday scenario to Ron Paul. Paul just refuses to play ball. "Instead of talking about this, we should be asking what we can do now, in terms of talking to people, like the Russians and the Chinese–we don't need to go to war as our first resort." Hume is a little sour-loking at the answer and the applause it gets, but c'mon, he asked the question.

10:30: Duncan Hunter doesn't want to answer a hypothetical question, but he can't turn down a chance to be simultaneously boring and horrifying. It's sort of reassuring that the closest he'll get to the Football is in the Smithsonian. (This is true of Ron Paul, too, but still…)

10:33: After all that laughing, Giuliani actually addresses Paul a little: "I don't think you can look at this like the Cold War." And then he says that Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot while pointing "like, a thousand missiles" at the USSR. Yes, no lessons for our Iran crises in that.

10:35: Romney wants to talk to everybody but our enemies need to "see our hands" and "know we mean business."

10:37: McCain points out that the hostages were freed "after Reagan raised his hand, by coincidence," wink wink. So all of the tough Iran talk is bunk, and we're going to give them weapons to calm them down.

It's a wrap, but Fox is going to its focus group. Half of them like McCain and think he won, but no one thinks the field came off well. None of the focus group seem to figure out that McCain is getting compliments from the rest of the candidates because he's stopped being a threat.

Giuliani, rapping with Hannity and Colmes, suggests a Gravel-Paul debate. I'm in if it's moderated by John Cox.

I'll do winners and losers again.

Fred Thompson. Yes, he looks like a sad-sack gimp for not competing, but he delayed his inevitable, stumbling debate disappointment for a couple weeks. The dream lives on!

Mike Huckabee. He actually sounded as lightweight as he ever has, but possibly because he's not polling so well in this state, nobody attacked him. He lost the exchange with Paul on points, but he's got the position on Iraq that most Republicans actually do.

Mitt Romney. I got a Dead Zone flash of an election night 2008, as the cable news maps go all blue and pundits are analyzing how nominee Romney blew the presidential debates when he was asked what he'd do if his son was killed by terrorists: "Golly! That wouldn't be nice." For all of his experience–the stuff he acknowledges, the stuff he runs away from–he's absolutely unable to show emotion. Maybe it's irrational for voters to care about that, but they will.

Rudy Giuliani. He managed to sound pre-programmed and unsure of himself. Fairly straightforward questions got answered with fragments of stump speeches.

Sam Brownback.
Get out while you can still command good speaking fees. And while groups would still hire you to speak.

John McCain. I realize the focus groups think he won, but he sounded like a man on a farewell tour. Again, why would a man whose biography begins with "I was tortured for five years" need to quote a forgotten Reaganite on the reasons against torture? Why so many references to politicians who are long dead or retired?