Seven Republican presidential hopefuls are facing off in New Hampshire's first presidential debate of the 2012 election season Monday night.
The list of names taking part in the forum includes: U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).
All of the participants have officially launched campaigns for the White House in the next election cycle with the exception of Bachmann, who is expected to officially announce her candidacy for president later this month in Iowa.
Granite State-based outlets WMUR and the Union Leader, along with CNN, are sponsoring the debate being held at St. Anselm College on Monday night.
Click here for a rundown on five things to watch in the forum. Below, a live blog on the latest developments to unfold out of New Hampshire.
06/13/2011 10:57 PM EDT
Former Bush Official: Congress Should Raise The Debt Ceiling
HuffPost's Amanda Terkel:
Andy Card, who was President Bush's chief of staff, said during CNN's post-debate analysis that he disagreed with many of the candidates on the issue of raising the debt ceiling, saying he believes Congress should lift it:
On the issue of the debt ceiling, I was one of the people pushing Sen. Obama to actually permit the debt ceiling to go up, so I'm in favor of increasing the debt ceiling. I want responsible cutting on the other end, but I thought Michele Bachmann did a very good job tonight. I thought all of the candidates did a good job tonight. I really want to stress that, you know, there were no embarrassments among that group. They did a good job.
06/13/2011 10:43 PM EDT
The Democratic Party Responds
HuffPost's Sam Stein:
The Democratic Party stayed pretty close to now-well-worn messaging in its official response to the Republican presidential debate. If the economy seems to be sputtering, the refrain went, it's because people vastly underestimated the scope of the problem inherited by the president.
“Tonight’s Republican debate was a reminder that we’ve been down this road of failed economic policies and proposals before," said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "The economic recession in America wasn’t caused by bad luck; it was caused by bad Republican policies. But the Republican candidates are doubling down on the same flawed policies that led to the loss of 3.6 million jobs in the final months of 2008 and gravely affected middle class families across America."
For good measure, the DNC trumpeted up its defense of two bedrock entitlement programs –- Medicare and Social Security –- arguing that the GOP would end and privatize those two, respectively. But the post-debate spin still seemed to put the emphasis on Obama's predecessor.
"This is not going to be… an election to blame George Bush," said former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on CNN. "But I'm suggesting that a series of decisions that got us into the mess is not a series of decisions we ought to make to get us out of it."
06/13/2011 10:42 PM EDT
HuffPost's Jason Linkins:
I'll refrain from assigning grades to the candidates, because this isn't grammar school.
As I stated earlier, Rick Santorum did a good job jumping on open questions and beating the field to filling dead air. He was crisp and assertive. But if this performance doesn't move the polling needle for him at all, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that people just aren't that interested in him being president.
Michele Bachmann followed Santorum's lead throughout the night and didn't say anything so bonkers that it would immediately be disqualifying.
Ron Paul didn't manage to crack the debate format, and didn't make use of any opportunities to get in there and start interjecting. When he took a direct question, though, he managed to provide the same assertive answers that he's been giving for years. He is clearly desirous of ending our overseas wars, and the Federal Reserve, for instance! Paul also managed to avoid any awkward moments where he imitated heroin addicts.
Watching Tim Pawlenty refuse to stand behind the term he coined, "Obamneycare," was a wrenching thing to watch! John King sunk in the skewers, pointing out that he was willing to call the Affordable Care Act "Obamneycare" to Chris Wallace, so why not say it to Romney's face? Pawlenty evaded, unconvincingly, at length. So, we've had two debates, and two prolonged instances of Pawlenty ducking and groveling, pathetically. And that's why he's behind in the polls!
Romney, for his part, was willing to look past Pawlenty's past statements. He even offered magnanimous praise for Pawlenty's economic plans -- a break for TPaw, given the credulous way Chris Wallace treated them in the same interview. If you're an independent voter, and you're looking for the candidate who's going to be the rational consensus builder, you saw that in Romney. Too bad the Tea Party types hate him so much!
I'll be curious to know whether Herman Cain will have the same impact on undecided New Hampshire voters that he clearly had in South Carolina. Cain was the same guy he was in that earlier debate, but I didn't sense that he was standing out in quite the same way. If I had to speculate (and I guess I do!), I'd say that Cain probably held serve.
Newt Gingrich also participated in the debate tonight.
06/13/2011 10:40 PM EDT
War And Pizza
HuffPost's Michael Calderone:
Guess the more pressing question. This: Should gay U.S. servicemen and women be allowed to serve openly? Or that: Should U.S. servicemen and women remain in harm’s way?
If you were watching the Republican debate, you might have assumed the latter. CNN moderator John King -- who described his role to me as debate “traffic cop” -- steered the candidates to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before raising the issue of whether the candidates believe troops should remain in Afghanistan or whether President Obama was justified in authorizing attacks on Libya.
No one expected foreign policy to be the focus of tonight’s debate. We all know it’s the economy, stupid. And King understandably kicked things off with a question about jobs. That’s what American voters want to hear about most now.
But with the U.S. still involved in Afghanistan and Iraq and bombing Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan, it’s surprising that King didn’t ask any foreign policy questions until an hour and 44 minutes into the two-hour debate. Other social issues, such as the influence of faith and abortion, also came up before questions about U.S. military interests abroad. And the foreign policy conversation that began at 9:44 was over by 9:53.
While Republican voters may leave the Saint Anselm College debate hall still unsure about how the candidates might handle, say, Pakistan’s intelligence service or Israel's borders, they do know that Hermain Cain prefers deep dish to thin crust.
06/13/2011 10:39 PM EDT
A Bizarre Complaint
HuffPost's Sam Stein:
Former Bush White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, appearing on CNN for post-debate analysis, brought up a fairly bizarre complaint. Unlike the Republicans, he said, Democrats won't be debating themselves between now and the election.
"What we are missing tonight is any debate among the Democrats," Card said. "We will not have one. We will not have a debate among the Democrats between now and the time President Obama accepts the nomination of his party and I think that's said."
That Obama goes scratch free for the next year or so is, apparently, terribly unfair for Card, who likely had no problem at all with an open primary when his former boss, George W. Bush, was running for re-election.
But it also is a pretty obvious feature of the incumbency, leading a befuddled Anderson Cooper to ask: "But isn't that the way things work?"
06/13/2011 10:10 PM EDT
The GOP Field On The GOP Field: We're Awesome!
HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:
Voters have consistently sounded their dissatisfaction with the current GOP field of candidates. But the GOP field of candidates seems to disagree! Herman Cain says that he believes that once people get to know the field better, they'll come to like them all, and that Cain personally, thinks that he's in a strong field.
The rest followed suit. Mitt Romney said that anyone on the stage would be a better president than Barack Obama. Everyone did their best to suggest that everyone on the stage would make a fine vice presidential candidate for their ticket as well -- without committing themselves to picking one (probably because no one wanted Newt Gingrich to feel left out). Michele Bachmann proposed an "American Idol" contest to decide. Ron Paul said that everyone on the stage would make for a qualified veep. However, he made it clear that he would withhold making a pick until they'd offered their take on the Federal Reserve.
To prove how likable they were, there was some last minute pandering. Newt Gingrich said that the event proved why New Hampshire deserves to have "first in the nation" status as a primary state. And Tim Pawlenty managed to be the last candidate to praise the Stanley Cup-contending Boston Bruins. (Previously, Mitt Romney had pandered to Bruins fans, but for what it's worth, Pawlenty is the more-authentic hockey fan.)
06/13/2011 10:03 PM EDT
Turning To Immigration
HuffPost's Elise Foley reports:
A few minutes after talking about the sanctity of life with abortion, the Republican candidates turned to immigration, arguing the government should do more to stop immigrants from entering the United States illegally -- or allow militias to do so -- and block undocumented immigrants from using even emergency health services.
Ron Paul said the government should not require doctors to treat undocumented immigrants -- even if they were children -- or grant them easy citizenship. He said the government should push for the border to be secured by any means necessary, seemingly endorsing militias created to patrol to border like the Minutemen, who are often considered a rogue group. "There was a time when we didn't depend on the government for everything," he said.
Newt Gingrich agreed, saying the National Guard should be sent to the border to stop illegal immigration. He said there are no solutions for either deporting 12 million people or legalizing them, but instead the issue should be dealt with in parts.
"We're never going to pass a comprehensive bill," Newt Gingrich said. "Obama has proved that the last two years."
Herman Cain made a more centrist approach, saying "of course" undocumented immigrants should be given emergency health care. He argued the border should be secured and then Congress should "clean up the bureaucracy" for legal immigration.
He said he opposes birthright citizenship, the automatic right to citizenship for children born in the U.S. to undocumented mothers. Tim Pawlenty said the issue of birthright citizenship was related to activist judges, arguing he would appoint conservatives to the courts that wouldn't make such a radical decision. (The court case most attributed to birthright citizenship was in 1898.)
06/13/2011 9:56 PM EDT
Foreign Policy: Paul Stands Alone
HuffPost's Sam Stein:
After one hour and 45 minutes, the GOP presidential debate finally turned to foreign policy, with three candidates asked whether they would pull troops out of Afghanistan on an expedited basis.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney offered an evasive answer, saying he would "bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can" but only based on " the conditions on the ground determined by the generals."
“Only Afghans can win Afghanistan’s independence from the Taliban," he added.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty was similarly vague, though he expanded his answer to note that if he had intelligence on groups or individuals plotting to attack the country, including in Yemen (he noted), "you can bet they will hear from me and we will continue those bombings."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hit a skeptical note about the cost of U.S. policy in the broader Middle East, arguing that the country need to drawdown "as rapidly as possible with the safety of the troops [considered]." He added that, as president, he would instruct the generals to "find new and very different strategies because this is too big a problem for us to deal with American ground forces in direct combat; we need a totally new strategy for the region."
Offering the most the emotionally pitched critique of current U.S. foreign policy was, again, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
"I wouldn't wait for my generals. I'm the commander in chief," said the isolationist Texas Republican. "I would bring them home as quickly as possible and I'd get them out of Iraq as well."
As is custom, Paul seemed to be applauded by slightly more than half of the crowd.
06/13/2011 9:44 PM EDT
Karger: 'It's Really Turning Into A Right-Wingathon'
HuffPost's Jason Linkins:
The battle for marriage equality is the animating idea in Fred Karger's life and candidacy. What he heard on the subject left him feeling unimpressed, and made him itch to join the debate.
He emailed HuffPost:
Gay marriage. Wish I was on there! Wish I was on that stage to continue to fight bigotry within my party. It's really turning into a right-wingathon.
06/13/2011 9:28 PM EDT
Bachmann's Inconsistent Tentherism
HuffPost's Jason Linkins:
Bachmann got a classic wedge question: As an opponent of marriage equality, but a proponent of federalism, would she work to overturn a state-level decision to allow for same-sex marriage?
After a fashion, Bachmann said that she would not favor "coming into a state" to interfere with their decisions on the matter. Pretty consistent tentherism.
The theme continued. Cain said that he, too, would leave it up to the states. And Ron Paul, of course, wants the government out of marriage entirely.
Then came a slew of candidates who supported Federal interference in a state's decision to allow for marriage equality. Pawlenty said he supports a constitutional amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman. Newt Gingrich noted that he helped author DOMA. And Santorum added, "We should have one law in the country with respect to marriage."
Bachmann is maybe now too inured to following in Santorum's footsteps, because then she changed her mind and followed suit with everyone who supported federal intervention in mandating what "marriage" is.