Greetings and welcome to the Huffington Post's Liveblog of the 2,637,938th GOP Debate. Now, if you were paying attention, you no doubt noted we had some technical glitches earlier tonight. Therefore, this liveblog is blogged in the "spirit" of the word "live," though not the letter. This blog was filmed before a live studio audience.
But still, let's celebrate! Because at last, that whole "democratic process" has started to work, separating the right-wing, war-making wheat from the chaff that nobody likes. We'll see four remaining candidates on the stage tonight: Mormon supply-side pimp Mitt Romney, rage-filled war hero John McCain, genial bass-player Mike Huckabee, and blimp-supported Guy Fawkes enthusiast Ron Paul.
But despite the quartet onstage, attention shall mostly flow to Romney and McCain, who have emerged as de facto frontrunners. By all appearances, the two men do not care for one another, and each will likely try to cut as clear a distinction as possible from the other. There may be blood! Certainly we'll hear about how McCain represents a "broken Washington" and how Romney is a position-switching member of the Decepticons.
My name is Jason Linkins, the jaded and unlikable blogger from The Huffington Post's HuffPolitics page. Joining me tonight is Martin Lewis, British-born and L.A.-based political commentator and humorist, who is a regular contributor to our glorious enterprise. Let us begin.
Jason Linkins: Uhm..,there's a plane.
Martin Lewis: Nice airplane! Looks good in a Library
Jason Linkins: Yes. We're at the Reagan Museum and Republican Memory Compound. They have a replica of Air Force One. Also, Anderson Cooper and Nancy Reagan. Immediately, Mike Huckabee starts sucking up to her.
Martin Lewis: Does that clapping sound very thin or what? They need Timberland to mix the audio. Make it see like the audience care
Jason Linkins: Right. Add some beats. Jim VandeHei, easily the most self-satisfied man in journalism, is there. And the four candidates are seated at desks. It looks like they're in grammar school.
Martin Lewis: With the backdrop - it looks like they are waiting in the departure lounge at Reagan National...
QUESTION: Are you better off now than you were eight years ago?
Martin Lewis: Too much mousse in Mitt's hair. But nice makeup job
Jason Linkins: Romney's all: "If you're from Massachusetts, you are better off." True that! They have Deval Patrick now. But Cooper won't let Romney skate on stump speech.
Martin Lewis: His shirt is whiter than the others
Jason Linkins: Blindingly white. You can see that shirt from space. You can cut butter on that collar.
Martin Lewis: Matches his teeth. Nice coordination by his stylist. Who does McCain's tie? That looks like it was tied by an old man... Oh sorry.
Jason Linkins: McCain seems to think a lot of "good things" happened during the Bush administration. Except for all the things that weren't good. He then takes five minutes to say "subprime housing crisis."
Martin Lewis: How long before he calls us "my friends"?
Jason Linkins: OK. So, we're better off if we look at the last eight years...but the past TWO WEEKS or something have really been a drag. Huckabee says we aren't better off now, but it's not the President's fault. It's Congress'.
Martin Lewis: Those letters on the airplane fuselage are very distracting.
Jason Linkins: The whole set is distracting.
Martin Lewis: Romney looks 3 foot taller than the others in the wide shot
Jason Linkins: I keep looking for the stewardesses.
Martin Lewis: "Serious leadership in Washington" - says Huckabee -
like a VP from Arkansas...
Jason Linkins: Huckabee says we need to do more for "invisible people."
Martin Lewis: HRC owns the Invisible People
Jason Linkins: Now Ron Paul answers the question. Naturally, he thinks everything's gone off the rails, but if we just aim for the opposite side of the railyard, everything will be fine.
Martin Lewis: If you read that airplane as it looks - it says: "F America."
QUESTION: Janet Hook asks if Romney really thinks John McCain is not a conservative.
Martin Lewis: There you have the entire Neo-Con philosophy in a nutshell and on a plane.
Jason Linkins: Romney wants to drill in ANWR, end McCain-Feingold, end amnesty. Romney just said that because of McCain, "Now everybody is here illegally."
Martin Lewis: McCain is holding his pen like he's Bob Dole. Bad look
Jason Linkins: Romney will deport us all.
Martin Lewis: First "MY FRIEND!" Said to Mitt!
Jason Linkins: Yep! Said to the one person in the room he doesn't want to be friends with.
Martin Lewis: McCain never saw Broadcast News - he's slumping and looks like he's 6 inches below Mitt. It's almost like a Board Meeting. Or Bored Meeting. Mitt does make a very handsome Mannequin. He should use Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" for his theme song
Jason Linkins: That sort of makes my stomach churn.
Jason Linkins: Mike Huckabee wishes Rush Limbaugh loved him as much as he loved Rush.
Martin Lewis: That kind of love won't be legal in Mike's America
Jason Linkins: QUESTION: From VandeHei. What's up with all your fees, Mitt?
Martin Lewis: I'm missing Rudy tonight. I love Rudy. How can you not love a man so smart that it only takes him 13 years to figure out that he's married to his cousin?
Jason Linkins: I know. We'd have already skidded into one of his Muslim torture fantasias by now.
QUESTION: To McCain. Do you side with Schwartzenegger or Bush on green issues.
Jason Linkins: McCain says he supports the adoption of green technologies, and that even if everyone's wrong about climate change, it's a good step in the right direction. And then I think he says he wants us all to become nuclear-powered French people!
Martin Lewis: This is beyond boring! We need the battle of the surrogates. Chuck Norris vs Sly Stallone. With Marie Osmond repping Mitt. Who is Ron Paul's biggest celebrity supporter?
Jason Linkins: I have no idea.
Martin Lewis: I think he has Erik Estrada hustling for him.
Jason Linkins: Ron Paul says California should be allowed to do what they want. Up with California.
QUESTION: To Huckabee. Why do you think a highway from Maine to Miami is a better stimulus than the package that's coming through Congress.
Martin Lewis: Nancy Reagan's glasses look as big as something that Dame Edna or Elton John discarded.
Jason Linkins: Huckabee says we'll just all celebrate our debt load by buying a bunch of Chinese shoes. So, we need a new road to work on. Pollution is going up in the air. Bridges are falling on people. Then he says that the Bangor-Miami highway was just a pander to the people of Florida. Maybe now he thinks a new California highway would be worth it.
Martin Lewis: I realize that by focusing on the style and visuals of this debate over the content of their responses that I can correctly be accused of focusing more on the serious aspect of what's going on tonight. I shall try and get frivolous and comment on their replies
Jason Linkins: Oh, don't worry. Their replies are, themselves, pretty frivolous. Anyway, Mitt Romney disagrees with Huckabee. After all, concrete slabs are falling on people in the Big Dig, and that's a brand new infrastructure project. Really, we can't build bridges well anymore, so Chinese shoes for everyone. And Ron Paul is against us blowing up other countries bridges.
Martin Lewis: They need scoreboard numbers in front of those desks - like Wheel Of Fortune or Jeopardy. How much money they promise to slash from important social programs. Highest slash - wins the debate.
Jason Linkins: The set does make me wonder if the last question will be FINAL JEOPARDY. Phrase your answer in the form of a question.
QUESTION: Why did McCain oppose the Bush tax cut, then change his mind?
Jason Linkins: McCain courts the Paulites by saying he's against rampant spending. So, I guess that hundred year's war he wants to fight is going to be bought on the cheap. Maybe it'll be double-coupon decade in Iraq or something.
Martin Lewis: I thought that the GOP lost in 2006 because of Iraq, corruption, and the predilection of gay-hating GOP congressmen to diddle little boys.
QUESTION: Would you change the laws that give citizenship to children born in the US?
Martin Lewis: Huckabee is after the Lou Dobbs endorsement
Jason Linkins: Uhm...it's not LAWS you have to change, it's the CONSTITUTION,
Martin Lewis: Fortunately for these four dorks - there was no GOP running the immigration laws when their ancestors came to America. They'd all be considered illegals and deported. Is it too late now? Shouldn't we put a Native American in charge of immigration law?
QUESTION: McCain: Would you vote for your original proposal?
Jason Linkins: McCain says no. He sort of wants to make a case that things have changed, and that he's learned now that Americans want the border secured first. He's from a border state, where they know about "Building walls."
Martin Lewis: I hope they have one of those viewer text votes at the end. Ron Paul always wins those when the GOP debates are on Fox. Leaving Sean Hannity furious and desperately trying to pretend that Rudy (with 3% of the text vote versus 42% for Ron Paul) was somehow the real winner.
Jason Linkins: McCain will bring the best of his wall building skills to bear. The border wall will have excellent molding. There will be window treatments. There will be wainscotting.
QUESTION: To Huckabee. Was Sandra Day O'Connor a good choice for the SCOTUS?
Jason Linkins: WHAT A QUESTION!
Martin Lewis: Anderson is being too nice.
Jason Linkins: Anderson Cooper has the Reagan Diary on his desk. Don't open it! You will release the ancient demons!
Martin Lewis: Question should have been: Didn't Ronald Reagan make a terrible decision when he appointed Sandra Day-O'Connor to SCOTUS and allowed her to uphold Roe versus Wade.
Jason Linkins: That's basically what they're driving at, taking this to Huckabee. But he doesn't exactly take the bait, instead he flips the script where Cooper wanted him to go anyway, which is to talk about the abortion issue. He says that we can't go around saying that certain people are more equal than others. Unless we're talking about pregnant women, I guess! Up with foetuses!
Martin Lewis: Stir it up Anderson!!! Get them at each other's throats!
Jason Linkins: Ron Paul disses Sandra Day. Says he'd have supported a justice who was a "Constitutionalist." McCain loves all Arizonans, because they build the best walls.
Martin Lewis: I like it when Republicans talk about strict constructionist judges who will adhere to the intentions of the Founding Fathers and the original constitution. America NEEDS more judges who are in favor of slavery, segregation and denying votes to women, blacks and anyone who isn't a rich white male. How else can America be truly conservative? We need more respect for the class of '76!
Jason Linkins: Indeed. Though, to their credit, they each have a strong record where the quartering of troops is concerned.
Martin Lewis: But they have become soft on the hanging and drawing....
QUESTION: Is the Republican Party better off now than eight years ago?
Martin Lewis: I love it when Anderson quotes Peggy Noonan. But he forgot to imitate her Thatcher furrowed brow and faux soft voice of concern.
Jason Linkins: This is, like, a slightly different version of the first question! Lazy, lazy, Anderson Cooper!
Martin Lewis: Anderson is already in repeats
Jason Linkins: Romney suggests that Bush's legacy is that he taught everyone that when America is attacked, then we should respond. He literally said this! Nobody thought of defending themselves until Bush came along.
Martin Lewis: The House That Reagan Built. Nice name for a pancake franchise.
QUESTION: Mitt, have you ever supported a timetable for withdrawal?
Jason Linkins: "Abselly, unequivoably, abso-not."
Martin Lewis: Mitt gets the Dubya mantle. He's now stumbling on
words that even Bush can pronounce
Jason Linkins: "I will not pull our troops out until success in Iraq."
Martin Lewis: Peace In Our Time!
Jason Linkins: So, enjoy eternity in Iraq, troops!
Martin Lewis: McCain has a nice set of smirks.
Jason Linkins: No wonder, though! I'd smirk at Romney, too. He's up there, saying that it's important to deny HEZBOLLAH a safe haven in Iraq!
Jason Linkins: McCain: "The Democrats thought they had a mandate in 2006." Uhm...THEY DID. Though in fairness, I guess Larry Craig thought he had a few man dates, too.
Martin Lewis: Rim shot!
Jason Linkins: Mitt Romney is asking for clarification on things he
said. "What did I mean when I said that?"
Martin Lewis: Romney is now talking about his positions! Perhaps he is thinking about Larry Craig, too!
Jason Linkins: Of course, McCain is mad that Romney didn't support the Surge. You'd better love the Surge if you want McCain to not sit there and grit on you. McCain is going to send all his real friends candy Valentine hearts that say "SURGE!" on them.
Martin Lewis: McCain's mom obviously never taught him to sit up. And if Bush's people were able to get him a "lift" so he appeared to be the same height as Kerry in the 2004 debates - McCain should have got his man-servant to put a big cushion under his tush - so he wouldn't look 2 feet shorter than Romney.
Jason Linkins: Weeds! Surge! Romney says that this question should have been raised in April! Not now! Not when he could win the nomination! No fair! I don't understand Romney. AT ALL. Best interpretation of his answer is that as governor, he NEVER supported the surge because it wasn't his place. But as a candidate for President, he ALWAYS supported the Surge. And Fred Kagan has personally briefed him. I feel pretty terrible for Fred Kagan, obviously.
Martin Lewis: Do GOP voters care about appearances? Does "looking presidential" matter more than "sounding presidential?"
Jason Linkins: The Washington Post gave McCain "three Pinocchios." Whatever that means. I'm giving Romney six Dumbos. And nine Goofys. And one Little Mermaid.
Martin Lewis: McCain's FRIEND Mike Huckerbee and Mitt is also "MY FRIEND"
QUESTION: To Ron Paul. DO you think we should be in Iraq for 100 years?
Martin Lewis: I LOVED the 60s because of Guns 'n' Butter. One of the great bands... I saw them at a show where they opened for Pregnant Insomnia and Fecal Urgency...
Jason Linkins: Paul's answer is pretty great, actually. He mocks McCain and Romney for dithering over the technicalities, about who supported what when. Really. The only thing separating Paul and, say, Matt Yglesias on this issue is that Yglesias doesn't believe in a whole bunch of crazy, unsupportable fiscal and governmental ideas.
Martin Lewis: Huckabee has fluffed and folded his hair differently tonight.
Jason Linkins: Huckabee wants us to "get out of there with victory and honor." McCain says the distinction to be made is between "casualties" and "presence."
Martin Lewis: Perhaps it would be better if we just declare defeat and stay?
Jason Linkins: Yeah! That's it. We should surrender, but then offer to hang out. I can get behind that. No more casualties, but we have to stay here to prove some asinine point, so we'll cook for you and do laundry. Just stop killing us.
Martin Lewis: I think McCain actually just touched Romney's arm! Daring!
Jason Linkins: Now they have promised to shower Huckabee with questions.
QUESTION: What do you think of Putin, Huck?
Martin Lewis: By the way - I think Mitt should be proud of his first name. WILLARD. Why is that worse than being named after a baseball glove?
Jason Linkins: Huck says we need to look at what people are doing. And then be really strong and stuff. And exhume Reagan and make a zombie out of him or something, because that would be TERRIFYING.
Martin Lewis: Ron Headrest rides again! (For you Doonesbury fans over the age of 30.)
Jason Linkins: Romney says Putin is heading down a "troubling" road. But not the road Huckabee wants to build from Maine to Miami. Russia has political prisoners and unexplained murders. Whereas we have political prisoners and rendition sites. Romney: "There will always be terrible events in the world."
QUESTION: What makes you, McCain, a better economic leader than Romney?
Martin Lewis: US cities and states are ALWAYS alliterative in political schtick. Miami to Maine. Alabama to Atlanta. It's like all pols have their speeches written by Robin Leach...
Jason Linkins: McCain commanded a bunch of planes! And didn't crash all of them. He will fly that plane that's right there in the room if you want him too.
Martin Lewis: He's the untouchable. He's a hero
Jason Linkins: He learned about Ronald Reagan when he was a prisoner in Vietnam, and that makes him an economic expert. I got my MFA from a Vietnamese prison, actually. The coursework was quite rigorous. As were the beatings. I feel that John McCain could lead a beatings/torture-based economy quite well.
Martin Lewis: Even though in some cultures there is a slight difference between respect for someone's bravery in surviving torture - and the definition of a hero as someone who actually manages to escape from a prison. WWII war hero Douglas Bader had two artificial legs - flew planes over Germany - was shot down - put in a prisoner of war camp and managed to escape - with two artificial legs!!! Isn't THAT a hero?!
Jason Linkins: Romney disagrees. He did some work in the private sector. I've worked in the private sector also. The beatings you receive are, indeed, comparable.
QUESTION: Okay, Mitt, what makes you think you'd make a better Commander-In-Chief than McCain.
Jason Linkins: Romney's answer is something about checkers. How'd Nixon's dog get worked into this thing?
Martin Lewis: Are they wearing cloth coats? Romney is in mohair and silk
Jason Linkins: Oooh. McCain with the SNAP. Mitt's a fine man and "he bought and he sold and sometimes people lost their jobs."
Martin Lewis: Romney looks like he's about to sell you a second mortgage - and screw you to a fixed rate that will bankrupt you.
Jason Linkins: Ron Paul notes that the President is not the "Commander in Chief" of the economy. That's too bad. Bush could just "decide" himself up a great economy. The one thing that McCain and Romney agree on is that Paul's answers are hilarious.
Martin Lewis: Bad angle for Huckabee - he looks like the Before in a Hair Club For Men ad. That bald patch has GOT to be fixed
Jason Linkins: Huckabee agrees with Romney on his position that governors make good presidents. He was obviously fishing for one of his ironic laugh lines. Didn't come. It's hard to get yourself into the whole "Evening at the Chucklehut with Huckleberry the Governor" when you have a GIANT PLANE HANGING IN THE ROOM.
Martin Lewis: I could be wrong but I think this debate was sponsored by Ambiennnnnnnnnnnzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Jason Linkins: Huckabee is talking about his "invisible people." He wants to be president of Pan's Labyrinth. Only four minutes left!
Martin Lewis: What's for dinner?! Where's the bar?
QUESTION: Would Reagan endorse you? Why?
Martin Lewis: Ronald Reagan would say, "Why are there all these people sitting in front of my GIANT AIRPLANE?"
Jason Linkins: Romney says yes. I'd be Reagan's BFF. McCain says Ronald Reagan would totes hate Romney for being the king of the flip-floppers. During his last years in office, Reagan would have said, "MUMBLE GURGLE GURGLE MMMMYEEEAGGH!"
Martin Lewis: Ronald Reagan MORE than just a policy wonk?!!!! Yes I remember that!
Jason Linkins: Ron Paul says that Ronald Reagan sent him secret messages about the Gold Standard. Huckabee says he wishes Reagan would endorse him. Well, call Jesus, Huck! Make him do that Lazarus trick! "I endorse Reagan," Huckabee says.
Martin Lewis: All this man-love for Ronald Reagan. They are obviously all courting the Obama vote.
Jason Linkins: Well, that's it! Thoughts?
Martin Lewis: McCain made sure to shake hands with Mitt. Took care to not give him The Snub! Well I'm glad I Tivo'd that. There are some nights when I just can't get to sleep. Usually I settle on C-Span 3 - but this debate might be a good alternative. They were all trying hard to not slip-up. But the physical format, the layout was a serious distraction.
Jason Linkins: Indeed. This was one of the dumbest places I've ever seen a debate staged. The desks looked like the navigational bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Piloted by four men straight into a supernova.
Martin Lewis: McCain patronizing and smug.
Jason Linkins: McCain isn't having it, anymore, is he? He's the frontrunner, now, and dammit, he'll be as haughty as he likes!
Martin Lewis: He's 5 days away from having it. And he just needs to APPEAR above it. If he gets it - wait and count the amount of time until the Terror Alert goes up. And up and up. McCain will protect us. He knows how. Hillary or Barack will be "decent people" but they can't compete with a man with Hanoi Hilton experience
Jason Linkins: Meanwhile, Romney, no matter what he does, what he says, how he says it, just cannot manufacture any gravitas.
Martin Lewis: As I said earlier - he needs that Starship song to go with his Mannequin look. Romney is bewildered that looking so much like he's out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue isn't enough to get him elected President
Jason Linkins: When he speaks, there's this tone to his voice where he seems to be putting the tiniest little question on everything he says. There's a quaver.
Martin Lewis: Democrats who wish to beat McCain had better get used to the idea that "seasoned and tested in times of trouble" will be the meme of the campaign - per McCain. And all the "well-intentioned" ideas will be pointless if you can't protect America.
Jason Linkins: Very true.
Martin Lewis: Huckerbee was putting in his claim to be running mate over Rudy.
Jason Linkins: Also true. But man, that weird space did him no favors. he didn't get into his whole performance groove. Had a hard time establishing intimacy with the audience.
Martin Lewis: Romney can always fall back on being a devout and sincere moron.
Jason Linkins: And his trillions of dollars.
Martin Lewis: Did you notice how muted and brief the applause was at the end
Jason Linkins: I did, but I've got no way of knowing if that's a lack of enthusiasm or just bad acoustics!
Martin Lewis: The plane took up so much space that there was barely
room for an audience. If they have another debate - they should hold it on the concourse of Grand Central Station
Jason Linkins: They should have a debate inside a moon bounce. Or on top of a giant hot fudge sundae. Or in Second Life.
Martin Lewis: I already miss not having Rudy to kick around anymore. Not a single mention of 9/11 that I recall. That's a shame. All because a few million people in Florida saw what a total wally Rudy really is. I'm looking forward to tomorrow night's debate, I'll be in the room at the Kodak. That should be a bit of a dust-up. And there's no helicopters or Wright Bros. props there to distract us
Jason Linkins: We'll let's wrap this up. We got the Romney-McCain cage-fight we expected. Everyone pandered to Reagan's poltergeist. And there was a gigantic airplane.
Martin Lewis: I think it will be remembered as the Airplane debate.
Jason Linkins: Please return your tray tables to their upright position, America. And expect turbulence.
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