Republican Debate VI: The Fooferah in Florida


(I misread my debate schedule before: This one's in Orlando, not Sioux City, Iowa.)

I'm watching the third Fox News-hosted GOP debate tonight and will be watching for Fred Thompson to dazzle everyone with his timing and energy, John McCain to call for an Iraq pullout, Duncan Hunter to admit his affair with an illegal immigrant, and Ron Paul to be treated with dignity and sober respect.

The action starts at 8 p.m. ET. Also, I'm trying to add some verve to this liveblogging, so I'm interested in watching the next debate (11/6) or some future debate with a group of Ron Paul voters in the DC area. Here's how to contact me.

7:50: Speaking of, Frank Luntz is on Fox talking to a Republican focus group. It's terrific: Cosmically unenlightening. Everyone wants a Republican who'll "stand up." What's that mean? "Take on the Democrats." One woman moans that "the Democrats are able to do anything they want, anything they want to say." Really? Here in DC the Democrats are injecting jellyfish DNA to reinforce their spines.

Also, one Iowan calls Ron Paul "certifiably insane." Alan Colmes defends him.

7:55: Sean Hannity bashes Hillary Clinton ("she'll promise all of them a new car!") and then asserts that Republicans "want a positive agenda." His irony-fu is strong.

8:04: Rudy Giuliani: The real conservative, because George Will said so. As he did at the FRC conference, he mentions his war on porn in his list of conservative achievements. (An auspicious start: My server timed out and gobbled my first two debate comments.)

8:05: I suppose some people will care that Mitt Romney's cowlick underwent structural damage right before the debate began. He's conservative because he can bring the Republican *gutteral noise* HILLARY CLINTON HILLARY CLINTON grhgh.

8:07: Fred Thompson: Real leadership means making Ted Kennedy fat jokes. coughing and "I only got a minute here."

8:08: Finally, some dignity as Rudy says "Fred has his problems too." He brings up the Roy Pearson pants case to thwack Thompson over tort reform.

8:09: It's amusing to hear Thompson bitch about people filing lawsuits in New York. I'm still not convinced that this is a good attack against Rudy, from a GOP voter's perspective, but it's the stuff libertarians (and liberal civil libertarians) have been grousing about for years.

8:10: Rudy back to Fred: "He's never had executive experience." That's how he's going to beat those attacks, the ad hominem way: The issues are just too wonky to absorb otherwise.

8:11: Grumpy uncle John McCain is back to talk about Vietnam.

8:12: The nanites have fixed Romney's hair.

8:13: Lawyers are "the last people on earth" McCain will call in on a national security crisis. It's awfully telling of the modern GOP that this–Romney saying he'd want to follow the law if we go to war–has been the biggest gaffe of the autumn.

8:15: Romney's apologizing for wanting to follow the law: "Every president has gone to his White House Council." But it's dangerous ground so he sees an oasis and HILLARY CLINTON HILLARY CLINTON.

8:16: McCain's got his soundbite: "You've been running around trying to fool people about your record. Don't lie to people about mine." (I'm paraphrasing, but that's why we have soundbites.)

8:17: The Fox moderators have found a new tack for minimizing Paul: strict constructionism! He's invited to give the federalist position on gay marriage (after some audio trouble) and does so dryly.

8:19: But Romney finds a port in the storm: This is the only social issue that he sounds halfway credible on. "Our Constitution was written by John Adams. I've looked. It isn't there." [Ed 8:37: To clarify, he was talking about Massachusetts' constitution.]

8:20: Oppo teams spring into action to determine whether Rudy ever married a couple of transexuals. ("You got to cut me some slack, it was New York City.")

8:21: Huckabee comes out against arguing with the other candidates: Why let it remain as subtext when you can make it the text? Instead, he'll give us a perfectly packaged piece of cant about human life.

8:23: "They're coming out against me because I'm their worst nightmare." I know that my nightmares involve plodding retirees who say "uhhh" a lot.

8:25: John McCain served in Vietnam.

8:26: Tom Tancredo whines about his ratings from conservative pressure groups.

8:27: Duncan Hunter traces the decline of the Democratic party to "a Democrat president" letting down the Cuban freedom fighters. It's important to remember that Ron Paul is the crazy one.

8:29: John McCain throws out the first actual bit of policy I've heard, a $2500 refundable tax credit for poor people's health coverage.

8:30: Hm, a neutral question to Ron Paul: He refused to treat people under Medicare, so what's he want to do about health care? Answer: "Don't run a world empire."

8:32: Romney isn't going to give the Democrats credit for "my" health plan. Ah, such consistency.

8:33: Duncan Hunter makes a pretty good joke about Romney's health care, specifically fertility care for 90-year olds: "I admire his optimism." He keeps his candy-store smile for Romney's entire rebuttal.

8:35: Wow, Mike Huckabee gets a Republican crowd to hoot for "preventive care." Call it Hillarycare and they'll egg your house; make a joke about hippies and they'll melt.

8:39: Not even the Democrats have found time for a Garrison Keillor reference. It gets no applause, but point to Fred.

8:40: Giuliani gets an ostensibly tough one about education and how the teachers' unions drubbed him in New York: "I like teachers, but I care about the kids more!" Probably emboldened by his response at the FRC event, he plugs "home school" and gets a war whoop from the middle of the crowd.

Commercial break one: I'm fixing some stuff above. Jim Geraghty is liveblogging and wonders if the candidates are on steroids. I think it has more to do with Fox panelists who actually care what these candidates think.

8:46: Everyone's getting a question about Hillary Clinton and an unemcumbered crowd is hooting for her blood. Is she fit to be commander-in-chief? NOOOOOO! Romney: "The audience is telling you the answer!" (A side note: I don't like to suck up to Clinton, but you'll notice that all the frontrunners like to dash off tough questions by laughing. It is sexist to focus on her "cackling"?)

8:48: "Anybody here going to vote for Hillary?" How unlike Romney to suck up to a crowd and say whatever's popular with them.

8:49: Is Rudy just like Hillary? Giuliani bugs his eyes out: "You gotta be kidding me!"

8:51: To illustrate how Rudy handled that last round, a video aid:

8:53: John McCain served in Vietnam… well, ok, he gets one of his better lines from this, bashing Hillary's earmark for a Woodstock museum. "I understand it was a major cultural and pharmaceutical event. I couldn't attend. I was tied up at the time."

8:54: Huckabee tries to be serious so he calls "Islamic fascism" "the most dangerous enemy we've ever faced." Very serious.

8:57: Paul gets booed for pointing out that "seventy percent of Americans want out of Iraq." (Five minutes ago, the crowd cheered when Rudy said he was polling "in the margin of error" behind Hillary. A smart audience!)

8:58: He wasn't too rattled by the booing… Paul transitions into a plea for Republicans getting back in touch with their inner Brickers and Tafts. Extremely light applause. Also, I just re-read the question and realized that Hume 1)claimed Clinton was anti-war and 2)equated being Republican with being pro-war.

9:00: Fred makes the case for his Social Security proposals and argues (in case you missed it) for his bravery: "Can you imagine, something that's going to go bankrupt and we're not talking about it?"

9:01: Rudy calls for private accounts.

9:03: And so does Romney. The party's picked itself up off the mat and dusted off, two years after getting shellacked on Social Security…

9:04: …as Hume points out. Ronney will do "what I did in Massachusetts"–work with Democrats and then pretend he didn't and make fun of them.

9:06: Huckabee claims that Bush "used the wrong word" and referred to Social Security accounts as "private" instead of "personal." This is untrue.

9:07: Spontaneous applause for Paul when he wants young people to be able to "get out of the system." He loses the audience a little bit with a lecture on the falling dollar (".04 cents of what it was in 1913 when the Federal Reserve was created") but hey, he's not getting booed anymore.

9:09: Duncan Hunter talks about "dealing with massive loads." I empathize. (I'm curious as to how we can stop free trade and solve our Social Security problems and invite Hunter to explain this while I go away and do something else.)

9:12: The real problem with Social Security is, of course, Mexicans.

Second commercial break. More liveblogs here.

9:16: This is a forgiving crowd… it takes a while for McCain's gears to crank out a re-heated line about looking into Vladimir Putin's eyes "and seeing the letters K, G, and B." They applaud anyway.

9:18: McCain wants missile defense, Hunter wants AEGIS missiles in the Black Sea and missile defense.

9:21: Fred Thompson can't remember the word "resolution"? It's a reverse of the last debate: He started strong and has faded rapidly.

9:23: Huckabee puts on his statesman cap: Secretary of State to Turkey.

9:24: Paul says Turkey's business is Turkey's business and "we don't need to go looking for trouble." BOOO! (Actually, looking at it again, they boo him saying "we need to trade" with enemies. Jesus Christ.)

9:27: This is a hell of a lightning round: Paul gets a question about the future of the GOP and he's allowed to restate his campaign manifesto. "We've adapted the Democrats' foreign policy!" BOO, etc.

9:29: How to tell a serious candidate from a crazy one. Crazy ones talk about Eisenhower's foreign policy; serious ones talk about staring their way into peoples' eyes. And get massive ovations.

9:31: Fred Thompson ends the debate bragging that still bangs his wife.

The wrap-up…

Fox News gets Republicans, and Republicans get Fox News: The tougher questions have escape clauses, the easy questions pit them against their rivals in the simplest American Gladiator terms. No one sounded as lost as Fred Thompson did in the economics debate, and no one had previously duelled the way the top four candidates did in the opening of the debate. Almost everyone was able to meet his goal: Rudy pandered to Florida (the primary state he has to win, where he leads by double digits), Fred Thompson showed some vigor, Huckabee made conservatives think about ditching a frontrunner for him, McCain got the big one-liner.

People had speculated what would happen when Sam Brownback left the debate: Who'd get his time. Surprisingly, a lot of it went to Ron Paul. I have two theories why. One is that, unlike the two remaining second-tier candidates (Huckabee is one-and-a-half tier), moderators actually want to hear Paul respond to questions. (No one wants to hear Hunter rant about the Reds or Tancredo stutter about the swarthy men from the south and their wombful women.) Who knows, he might start a fight. The other might be that Paul fans relentlessly attack these guys when they ignore Paul. They're probably tired of it. Candidate-by-candidate:

Paul: A terrible opening question and answer but solid after that, impressive when you stop and think about the mass of angry, yelling faces Paul could see from the stage. He's gotten stronger picking his themes and hammering them all at the end of his answers–stronger, but not amazing, and it often results in messy Jackson Pollack sentences.
Romney: Pretty much awful, and even his strong areas–the economic stuff–were muddied up by his obsession with rewriting history.
Giuliani: He never "loses," and he always does well enough to assuage the Republicans who were supporting him by default. It became very easy to imagine him debating Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama and winning. Less so the other guys.
Thompson: He has responses for the easy questions now but meanders on the tough ones. Everyone seems to think his brag about his young children was a winning line, so I'll let him have it, even though it sent me sprinting to find a sick bag.
McCain: This is the guy–tired, Vietnam-obsessed, joke-rebooting–who campaign reporters are praying will make a comeback.
Huckabee: Full of crap but he sounds great anyway. If he really starts threatening to win in Iowa, the frontrunners will hit him for his shallow foreign policy, his jokes-instead-of-knowledge, and his nannyism, but not until then.
Tancredo and Hunter: They were also there.