Since last we open-threaded, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) croaked former Utah governor Jon Huntsman out of the race by winning a strong if distant second place in New Hampshire. Strange new respect/accommodation for the doctor-congressman began trickling in from unlikely sources. Mitt Romney's path to the goal line became even clearer, despite everything that's wrong with Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich, in a naked attempt to alienate every single person who didn't already hate Newt Gingrich's guts, unleashed an anti-Romney line of attack worse even than Peter Suderman's headlines. Tim Tebow granted merciful reprieve to spouses stunned by the sudden intrusion of football on domestic television sets. Flies began buzzing around the general vicinity of Rick Perry, who is in a pitched battle with a flagging Santorum in the race to be the last Rick standing by this time next week. Peter Dinklage won a Golden Globe.
Storylines: "South Carolina primary is Romney rivals' last hope." "CNN Poll: Obama tied with Romney & Paul in November showdowns." Stephen Colbert is trying to make a local funny. "Confederate flag flap could impact MLK day debate."
Backdrop: The Nate Silver kidz have the South Carolina race currently at 35%-23%-16%-14%-9% Mitt-Newt-Paul-Santorum-Perry.
Long game: The New York Times has a very good piece about Ron Paul's strategy through to the Republican National Convention.
Last-minute prep: Take our candidate quiz, dammit, if for no other reason than to laugh and laugh at the people who have already lost. Then bone up on the five mouseketeers here:
9:06: I realized tonight that the second (or first?) main source of enjoyment at these things is watching campaigns die. I would like to think we are watching Newt Gingrich's die right now.
9:09: Right, Rick Perry, too. Though this was effective: "Mitt, we need for you to read your income tax." And the bit about how we can't fire the nominee in September.
9:11: Mitt Romney is running to "crack down" on cheaty Chinese!
9:13: Commenter Joe M: "So Gingrich spends five minutes serving up a big fat underhand pitch to Romney, who will now begin his general election campaign."
9:14: That 50% better GDP than Europe line of Romney's--does that include former-commie Eastern Europe? If so, it's not very honest.
9:16: Ron Paul could have chosen any candidate to attack after that stupid-ass question about negative campaigning, and he chose to attack Santorum. He really wants to step on those last remaining fingers.
9:18: It happens every debate--Rick Santorum says something I like: Challenging Mitt Romney on whether ex-felons can vote. And he's on the right side of the issue. AND HE'S TALKING ABOUT INCARCERATION RATES. And he's playing the MLK card. Go, Ricky!
9:20: This is as good a reminder as any that, in addition to having absolutely no plan to cut government, Romney is awful on criminal justice, immigration, China, and much else besides.
9:24: Commenter Bomb Everyone: "Europe downgraded, Israel attacking Iran, and economy in the dump and we're spending ten minutes on Mass. felons voting?" Well, I think there are some important underlying issues here, B.E.!
9:28: "Perfectly lubricated"! DRINK!
9:29: Mitt Romney has always had the core belief that he wants to become president. (Yes we'll be doing this every debate.) And I believe in Uncle Todd, who waves his penis!
9:30: "South Carolina is at war with this federal government." #hewentthere
9:32: Did you know that Ron Paul is in second place? He's had one answer in 33 minutes.
9:33: Bee Tagger: "Perry found a good mix of drugs for tonight so far."
9:36: Whoaaaa…. Actual question about Europe.
9:37: Did Romney just use the auto industry as an example of the normal bankruptcy process working as opposed to government intervention? Because that is insane, in the head.
9:40: Second question for Congressman Paul! And a good, direct one. Rambling answer, but he stuck the landing.
9:42: Romney gives three answers to a single-answer question.
9:43: "I want to make the inflation tax zero as well." Put simply.
9:44: Stephen Hayes: "Ron Paul is right on 'spending is taxation' argument. We'll all pay it at some point, in some form."
9:47: Commenter Scruffy the Janitor: "Were those boos, for Romney's dad being born in Mexico?" Yes, yes I believe they were. I thought it was Nick Gillespie outside my window again.
9:48: BTW, has anyone ever talked Santorum through the whole correlation/causation thing, in re: people getting married getting unpoor?
9:49: Juan Williams absolutely underhands Ron Paul a drug war/racism question. Wow.
9:50: Ron Paul says Martin Luther King would agree with him on wars against drugs and foreign countries. DRINK TWICE! Crowd totally quiet.
9:53: Juan Williams staying unflappable. I wouldn't be.
9:55: By the way, Food Stamps totally boomed under George W. Bush, as a result of bureaucratic effectiveness. Read Greg Beato.
10:00: Ron Paul gets a direct question on the Osama bin Laden assassination, and flails around. I'm beginning to believe Hit & Run commenters' conspiracy theories about Fox News questions…. This is not the best three minutes of his campaign.
10:07: Paul gets a heavy booing. And Romney shifts very quickly to attacking Obama. He is no longer running against Republicans.
10:09: Commenter Tulpa: "Dr Paul, you eat babies for breakfast. Explain why."
10:11: Commenter Fist of Etiquette: "Ron Paul needs to answer this question better."
10:16: Paul makes a good Taliban/Al Qaeda distinction. Also, this is an absolute kill-'em-all-fest. BUT WAIT! Romney gets some boos for signing the National Defense Authorization Act. I think they're serving booze in there.
10:17: Say it loud, say it proud: Romney won't cut Medicare, won't cut Social Security, won't cut the military. But he'll balance the budget!
10:20: "Don't give up on our American judicial system so easily, I beg of you!"
10:23: "Don't forget who it was who cut Medicare by $500 billion dollars!" BTW, the questions tonight have been pretty good, I think. Very pointed question to Romney about what the hell he'll do on entitlements. The question to Paul about Osama was a good question. I even think Juan Williams' bit with Gingrich was good, though he'll get hammered for it. No 30-minute wanderings into talking to your gay BFF on the couch, and so on. Housing market questions, and so on.
10:27: This Gingrich answer on Social Security is the single best answer I've ever seen him give about anything, ever.
10:30: Rick Santorum attacks Mitt for not being bold on entitlements. He's right!
10:32: "Cutting back is going to have to happen." Perfect passive voice from Mitt Romney. In the service of attacking doing a goddamned thing about Social Security.
10:34: Jesse Walker: "After the break: Greece. Is it run by terrorists too?"
10:40: You know, I go on TV sometimes. I am asked questions. Sometimes you slip off the hook a bit so you can use the very small window to make the point you want to make instead of giving a literal answer. I mention this because OH MY GOD DOES MITT ROMNEY NOT ANSWER QUESTIONS. He's got the wriggle-on-your-record-and-turn-it-back-to-Obama thing down PAT. It's totally offensive, and yet it's like America is just too weary to care.
10:45: Is there a Super Pac-Man video game?
10:47: I hate to be a spoilsport, but repealing all campaign-finance laws does NOT allow you to get rid of private citizens spending money how they feel like to make advertisements about politics.
10:48: I WANT A DOUBLE-FENCE. "That border will be locked down," Perry says.
11:00: Abrupt ending alert! Well, I have no idea about these things, but I think Newt Gingrich is the one who helped himself most here, and Ron Paul the least (though it's easy to overreact to a room howling for blood). Arguing for non-interventionism (in any sphere of government, but particularly foreign policy/military) is hard, and if you're not on top of your game the results can be pretty harsh in the eyes of the undecideds out there. Actually, same goes for non-interventionism on entitlements, as the interesting Santorum/Gingrich/Romney debate illustrated.
Again, Mitt Romney is running on a platform specifically opposed to anybody's ideas of messing with Social Security, Medicare, and military spending. He reckons–and so far he's right!–that it probably makes him more electable, and his entire campaign is built around electability. But his ultimate undoing may be that electability for electability's sake is a song that only sounds pleasant to Republican ears, and there are fewer of those things every week. If you're not going to talk about cutting government during a GOP presidential campaign after three years of Barack Obama & a lousy economy, when are you gonna bring it up?
And with that, good night.