If you've a taste for watching well-heeled aristocrats completely crack up and come within a hair's breadth of a broken bottle fight, you could have done worse than watch last night's GOP debate in Las Vegas. Going into it, there was an expectation that a certain amount of attempted bloodletting would occur: it was generally viewed as Rick Perry's last chance to prove that he could confront Mitt Romney without experiencing an episode of narcolepsy or aphasia, and the gang-up beatdown of Herman Cain's 999 Plan was all but telegraphed as a coming attraction.
But the mood was contentious and slightly off-kilter throughout the proceedings. Multiple candidates whined about someone being out of time, or not having enough time. Michele Bachmann, on two occasions, yelled for Anderson Cooper to acknowledge her as if she was hailing a taxi. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry had multiple dust-ups over interrupting each other. And Cooper, for his part, chucked his rulebook almost immediately and allowed the debate to go completely off the rails.
The debate stage became the venue for explosive confrontation and the subtle threat of physical violence. But beneath the shouting and the overall lack of decorum, it was also the setting for some of the strangest arguments and oddest leaps of logic we've heard yet this campaign season. Here are a few of the highlights.
Herman Cain encourages criticism as long as it's not critical.
CAIN: The thing that I would encourage people to do before they engage in this knee-jerk reaction is read our analysis. It is available at HermanCain.com. It was performed by Fiscal Associates.
CAIN: Once again, unfortunately, none of my distinguished colleagues who have attacked me up here tonight understand the plan. They're wrong about it being a value-added tax. We simply remove the hidden taxes that are in goods and services with our plan and replace it with a single rate, 9 percent. I invite every family to do your own calculations with that arithmetic.
Well, which is it, Herman? Should we accept your own analysis, or do you want us to do our own arithmetic? Seems like the whole problem here is that every time people do their own arithmetic, they arrive at conclusions that deviate from your own claims.
Mitt Romney's health care plan is both awesome and terrible, depending on geography
ROMNEY: You know, this, I think, is either our eighth or ninth debate. And each chance I've had to talk about "Obamacare," I've made it very clear, and also my book. At the time -- by the way, I crafted the plan in the last campaign, I was asked: Is this something that you would have the whole nation do? And I said, no; this is something that was crafted for Massachusetts. It would be wrong to adopt this as a nation.
ROMNEY: I'm sorry, Rick, that you find so much to dislike in my plan. But I'll tell you, the people of Massachusetts like it by about a 3-to-1 margin.
So, people love Mitt Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts by staggering numbers, but it would be wrong for anyone else to experience its benefits? Got it.
Rick Perry isn't sure where Rick Perry is going with this.
COOPER: Governor Perry, in the last debate, Governor Romney pointed out that Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country, over 1 million kids. You were -- you did not get an opportunity to respond to that. What do you say to -- how do you explain that?
GOV. PERRY: Well, we've got one of the finest health care systems in the -- in the world in -- in -- in Texas. As a matter of fact, the Houston -- the Texas Medical Center, there's more doctors, nurses go to work there every morning than anyplace else in America, for the idea that you can have access to health care, some of the finest health care in the world.
But we have a 1,200-mile border with Mexico. And the fact is we have a huge number of illegals that are coming into this country. And they're coming into this country because the federal government has failed to secure that border. But they're coming here because there is a magnet. And the magnet is called jobs. And those people that hire illegals ought to be penalized.
And Mitt, you lose all of your standing from my perspective because you hired illegals in your home, and you knew for -- about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy.
Anyone know what Rick Perry was trying to do here, exactly? We start with one issue -- health care in Texas -- and pretty soon we're talking about jobs -- second issue! -- and immigration -- third issue! As best as I can tell, Perry wanted to find a spot to level the "Sanctuary Mansions" charge against Mitt, and this is where he decided to slip it in. I'll point out of course that while Perry accuses Romney of "stand[ing] here before us and talk[ing] about that you're strong on immigration," Romney had not, up to that point in the debate, done any such thing. This was the very first time the subject of immigration came up.
But beyond that, take a look at the path Perry uses to get there. The question is: Why are there so many uninsured children in Texas? Perry says that Texas has "one of the finest health care systems in the world." "But," he says, Texas also has a porous border with Mexico and a "huge number of illegals that are coming into this country." The implication here is that inadequate border security and a large population of undocumented immigrants are a drain on health care services.
But then Perry says, "They're coming here because there is a magnet. And the magnet is called jobs." But the Texas "jobs miracle" is supposed to be the major part of your case for why Perry should be president! Which means that for the sake of levelling a charge against Romney, Perry had to mount the argument that his own "jobs miracle" is keeping children from having health insurance.
Michele Bachmann should really get familiar with the things that Michele Bachmann has said at these debates.
BACHMANN: I will build the fence. I will enforce English as the official language of the United States government. And every -- every person who comes into this country will have to agree that they will not receive taxpayer-subsidized benefits of any American citizen.
So, Bachmann believes that those who immigrate to the United States should "have to agree that they will not receive taxpayer-subsidized benefits of any American citizen." But if Bachmann had her druthers, there's actually no need for her to demand such an agreement. Let's flash back to the earlier Fox News debate, with the help of Mike Mullen from CityPages:
No compromises! she cried, and they cheered. No education! she cried, and they screamed with delight. No taxes! she said, and they went, "Huh?"
The question, as put to Bachmann by Fox's Megyn Kelly, was a reference to a query from an earlier debate, which was the most popular question as chosen by online voters.
"The answer to his question," Kelly said," is a number. Out of every dollar I earn, how much do you think that I deserve to keep?"
Bachmann's answer was a truly astounding bit of... something. What do you call a gaffe when it's clearly a planned answer?
"And after the debate, I talked to that young man, and I said I wish I could have answered that question, because I want to tell you what my answer is: I think you earned every dollar. You should get to keep every dollar that you earn. That's your money. That's not the government's money."
So, if there are no taxes, why would anyone have to agree to forego taxpayer-subsidized benefits? Presumably, there wouldn't be any. (There also wouldn't be any way to pay for the border fence, but I imagine if you were to ask Bachmann how the fence gets built in a zero-tax era, she'll just say, "Angels.")
This was actually reported on by just about every newspaper, Mitt.
ROMNEY: Americans are hurting across this country, and the president's out there campaigning. Why isn't he governing? He doesn't understand -- he doesn't have a jobs plan, even now.
I mean, come on.
GINGRICH: As the nominee, I will challenge Obama to meet the Lincoln-Douglas standard of seven three-hour debates, no timekeep -- no moderator, only a timekeeper.
COOPER: We'd love to host those on CNN.
No, Anderson, you really wouldn't.