Republican Debate VI: The Donnybrook in Dearborn


The Republicans are debating economic policy at 4 p.m. ET on CNBC… and 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC. I don't know why they're filming so early, as my Thompson campaign sources assure me he already took his nap today, but it would be a lie to start "liveblogging" the rerun of this thing. So I'll be covering the first run here.

Alex Massie previews the debate with some worries about Ron Paul. How is a gold bug going to fare with the microscope on economics? Will everyone be too busy poking Thompson to notice Paul?

UPDATE: Actually, I'll only be able to liveblog until 5 or 5:30. I'll get the rest of the debate at the rerun.

4:01: The producers deserve an Emmy already: Matthews stood next to Maria Bartiromo and didn't say one untoward, offensive thing.

4:02: Fred Thompson meets expectations, which, we'll remember, were incredibly low.

4:03: Thompson makes a blatant grab for Larry Kudlow's approval, quoting his line (which no one else has really picked up) that our economic growth is "the greatest story never told."

4:05: How would the governor "put a tax on the debate"? Was that even a joke?

4:06: Chris Matthews, paraphrased: "What is money?"

4:07: Giuliani pushes away the question and spins the Wheel o' Talking Points. It lands on: Tort reform.

4:08: Paul gives one of his best-ever debate answers, which makes sense since he's been training for a prime time (well, prime afternoon TV time) speech on the Fed and monetary policy since roughly 1960. It's… not quite true, but it's well put together and the audience, sort of surprised, applauds it.

4:09: Thanks, John McCain. I'm sure Paul hasn't read any Adam Smith.

4:11: McCain on S-Chip funding: "We want to tax children's health, and we want everybody to smoke?" That does seem to be a problem with sin taxes in generally and cigarette taxes in particular.

4:13: A question for the room: Why are Fair Tax advocates treated seriously and Paul treated like a kook.

4:14: Hunter and Paul have basically the same economic position with one, uh, key difference: Hunter thinks we can uplift the working class via endless war.

4:15: You know when I'll stop snarking at Fred Thompson? When, uh, he (voice quavers) can answer a question (rubs hands) without disappointing everyone.

4:16: Bartiromo asks the audience to tamp down its applause. She then calls on Sam Brownback. Really, either one of those decisions would have done the trick.

4:18: Tom Tancredo awakes his inner libertarian for a couple minutes and talks about… entitlements! A bigger worry, even, than the Mexican hordes who want to do menial labor in the Southwest.

4:20: It's all over, already: Giuliani and Romney are going to win this debate. They're the only wonks on stage and the only guys who know what they want to do, specifically, with the budget.

4:22: Romney and Rudy scrap over their economic records and I really don't know how Romney expects to win these fights. Rudy cut spending in New York but… he thinks the line item veto is unconstitutional? That's a dealbreaker. Rudy's "a supply-sider," which is all he needs to keep saying for a certain chunk of the electorate.

4:26: This is what happens when you shimmy onto the China-bashing bandwagon: You start getting one-upped by tree slugs like Duncan Hunter.

4:29: McCain attacks "the waste in defense spending." He doesn't have the expertise of the big two (I'm leaving out Thompson) but on this and torture he's pretty untouchable.

4:33: Rudy supports the Dubai Company being able to buy 20 percent of Nasdaq. This seems like a "gotcha" question that no one is getting got on.

4:34: Paul and Giuliani agree on Dubai. This is far more pleasant than those "I'm-a-lookin' for Jack Bauer" national security debates.

4:35: McCain, again, adapts to his lack of comparative knowledge on this stuff by sneering and looking angry: "I'm a student of history," don't "listen to this siren song" coming from Duncan Hunter.

4:37: This is increasingly loopy: No one opposes free trade on this stage except for Duncan "0.0 percent" Hunter. He's a particularly stiff, bag-eyed straw man.

[UPDATE: Here there was a five-hour work-related interruption.]

9:38: Tancredo: "If Dubai wanted to buy Wal-Mart, I'd think about it." Nasdaq is a bigger national security interest than Wal-Mart? Either of them is a national security interest?

9:40: Thompson on the AMT: "Generally speaking, lower tax rates grow the economy." He really sounds like he's running against a Democrat for Senate, not for president.

9:45: Thompson fetishizes the military again: Troops know more about national security than politicians who've been in Washington for 20 years.

9:46: McCain regrets that President Bush didn't nag Americans to enlist in the army after 9/11 and says he criticized the Iraq War's prosectution from the beginning… true, if you forgive him for voting for the war with no strings, campaigning to re-elect Bush, and defending the war's progress in the media.

9:48: Paul gets another question, an attempt to get him to rant about Iraq: Instead, he gets onto the gold standard. "Our biggest export is paper money."

9:49: It must be frustrating when Matthews denies Rudy McRomneypson a chance to beat up Paul and goes to Brownback. Was Iraq a war for oil? "What I voted for was a war on terrorism!" Sam Brownback won't be president, so don't worry.

9:50: Thompson says he was worried about Iraq because Saddam "used weapons on the Kurds." Yes, in 1988.

9:52: Mitt Romney doesn't know if he could launch an Iran War without Congressional approval: "You'd have to sit down with your lawyers." Hooray, White House Counsel-and-then-Associate Justice John Yoo!

9:53: Duncan Hunter will attack a "fleeting threat." He does this a lot, throwing military jargon into a debate to dodge the question. Just put up with it for another month or so.

9:55: They tried to light a fire under Paul… and succeeded. "Why don't we just open up the Constitution and read it?"

9:56: President Huckabee would bomb Iran "in a heartbeat" even if the threat consists of some Iranians handing a briefcase to terrorists.

9:57: McCain: "I would consult with Congress because there will come a time when you may have to get approval from Congress." May come, yes.

9:58: Not a bad answer from Thompson, all told.

9:59: Giuliani takes a whack at Paul for saying we'd never faced an "imminent attack" from a terror state: Remember 9/11. "That was no state!" Paul says. "That was 19 thugs!" Giuliani: "I think it was planned in Afghanistan and Pakistan." In other words, not a state.

10:01: Giuliani on Iran: "We should have, and would have gone to war against Saddam. But maybe not."

10:03: "We've got to get more electricity involved in our car fleet," says Sam Brownback. Years from now he'll regret not just dropping out and endorsing Huckabee.

10:05: McCain: "I wouldn't drill in the Grand Canyon unless the people of Arizona wanted to."

10:07: Kudos for Huckabee using a NASCAR metaphor to talk about energy independence. How much energy could we save if NASCAR fans learned how to read? (I exclude Clarence Thomas from this piece of angry sarcasm, as I think he is a NASCAR fan, too.)

10:09: More Thompson, more filler.

10:10: Is our food supply really in Jeopardy or is Romney's Iowa pandering software just functioning smoothly?

10:11: How will the GOP regain the advantage on economic issues. Paul sounds… pessimistic about it.

10:12: President Huckabee will restore our resiliency and optimism by, basically, running on the Fair Tax. The Republicans are in bad shape at the moment.

10:13: McCain wheezes about how much Republicans have sucked of late, Romney says he'll win by being "optimistic" and not so "doom and gloom."

10:15: Giuliani's developing a bit of a tic: He starts with something weird (We can "sell" our health care solutions to China? If I'm Chinese, I think my health care's the only thing I'm satisfied with) and segues rather jaggedly to Hillary-bashing.

10:17: Brownback on America: "I mean, this place rocks!"

10:18: Tancredo knows how to win back the GOP brand. "Stop illegal immigration!" And after that: "Stop pandering." Irony bounces off his head like a paper kite.

10:23: Bartiromo claims Thompson, alone among the candidates, has given specifics about Social Security. I wasn't aware of this. My skeptism is rewarded with a fairly rote Republican answer on post-2005 debacle Social Security reform, with a non sequitor about how "our national parks have got to be taken care of."

10:26: Romney answers a health care question with around three attacks on Hillary Clinton and no references to his own, actual, Massachusetts health care plan.

10:28: Paul concisely defends the right to organize "without special rights." Huckabee fantasizes about unions "coming back in roaring form."

10:30: McCain sternly (he's doing everything sternly) calls for Michigan to become a right-to-work state, which has to please Republicans there… doesn't it? Am I misinformed about battered Michigan Republicans?

10:33: Yes, Brownback and Tancredo just had a fight about Brownback's mom. "My mother is not an illegal immigrant!"

10:36: Man, how many times is McCain going to uncork that joke about "having a glass of ethanol every morning"? He says this a lot.

10:37: Giuliani wants to police the internet bt "I don't want to create a new agency." Giuliani has proposed creating a few new agencies, especially when it comes to nation-building, but I guess he didn't create a new police department in NYC…

10:45: Oh, how Paul wishes he got the strong dollar question. Perhaps better for him that Thompson got to muddle through it.

10:46: Giuliani thinks we can strengthen the dollar if we "sell energy independence, sell health care." I… don't know what that means.

10:48: Paul is asked, sort of, if he'll reject the party's nominee and run third party. He parries with an answer about how much he disagrees with the other candidates, as does Tancredo (who's endorsed third party candidates for Congress).

10:50: "Getcha head up!" vies with "This place rocks!" as the line of the night.

10:54: McCain will catch bin Laden with "something like the OSS"… which still exists, and now is called the CIA.

10:56: Another debate, another canned Romney joke. Fred's response is surprisingly pointed.

11:04: The debate is over, and the MSNBC pundits are in agreement. Romney blundered by saying he'd "consult lawyers" if he was going to bomb Iran. Not because he wasn't going to ask Congress, but because, as Howard Fineman says, "voters want to hear something from the gut."

America's doomed. Feel free to discuss the debate in the comments.