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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Florida Debate #1

With ten days between the South Carolina Primary and the extremely important Florida Primary, I'm surprised that there are only two debates in between them. If you take a look at the Republican debate schedule, however, you'll see that there's a huge gap between this Thursday's CNN debate (Florida Debate #2) and the next GOP debate, scheduled for February 22. That makes me think that more can hastily be scheduled, and perhaps we'll be treated to one on Monday. The GOP debate schedule, after being so dense for so long, is surprisingly light for the next month. I expect them to fix that.

Now, with my LIVE BLOG* coming up for Thursday night's CNN debate, I thought I'd attempt a trial run last night for the NBC debate. Here were my running thoughts from my seat in the IC Coliseum:

9:00: Brian Williams is our anchor. He's always good for one or two smarmy lines. Is it the eyebrows? It think it's the eyebrows.
9:01: Man-of-the-hour Newt Gingrich gets the first question. Brian Williams recites Romney's attacks of the day and questions Gingrich's electability against President Obama. Gingrich reminds voters of Ronald Reagan's (take a drink) immense 30-point deficit at the outset of 1980 before dominating Jimmy Carter in that year's election. Not one pause, stutter, "um," uncomfortable smile, or grammatical mistake. Classic Gingrich.
9:04: Mitt Romney hits on Gingrich's record as Speaker of the House. He says "resigned in disgrace" twice, bringing his day's total to roughly 572,827.
9:06: Either out of rage or awe/envy, Gingrich notices Romney lied five times in one rant.
9:08: Romney cites Gingrich's history with Freddie Mac. (Take a drink.)
9:09: Williams presses Romney on the justification for his attacks after earlier saying he'd focus on the incumbent President. It is notable that Romney was not singing this tune during the December destruction of Gingrich in Iowa, and only after he thought Gingrich's doomed campaign was coming after him hard in revenge.
9:10: Gingrich: Romney "may have been a good financier but he's a terrible historian." Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the award for best back-handed compliment of the night!
9:11: Wait, Santorum's on the stage?
9:12: Santorum characterizes the media as always saying this was a two-man race between Romney and Gingrich. Actually, Senator, the theme has been all of the different contenders who competed with Romney for the top spot, and you were one of them. Then you blew it by going to New Hampshire against my explicit instructions.
9:13: Williams questions Santorum about losing his home state in his last Senate race. Santorum makes excellent points in response. In 2006, LOTS of GOP senators lost. Moreover, President Bush had a 35% approval rating, and Santorum stuck by him. Defending conservative values in a year where the conservative party was getting demolished, Santorum was swept out, while others moved to the middle. Santorum characterizes himself as choosing conviction over politics. Very nice job.
9:14: Wait, Ron Paul's in the race?
9:15: Asked about his electability, Paul cite his enormous popularity with the under 30 crowd. Yeah, Congressman, I don't that's enough. Middle-aged and old people vote, and they're terrified of your limited benefits. Additionally, Paul is yet again asked about running third party (take a drink), and yet again says he has "no plans" but does not live in "absolutes" (take another).
9:17: Gingrich goes after Paul's supporters on the Fed, gold, and monetary policy. That was a sweet moment for the two grey-hairs. It's too bad there's a canyon in between them on foreign policy.
9:18: Romney asked about his tax returns, which he released today. He does a nice job pivoting into his larger tax plan of reshaping tax code, looking for Herman Cain solid Floridian support. He did everything but recite "9-9-9."
9:21: Gingrich brings up Romney's father as someone who released tax records. Eh. I wouldn't have brought up someone's father.
9:23: Romney asked if he's been surprised about his income becoming an issue. Nice answer: No, but I expected it from the Democrats.
9:24: Santorum was careful to note he did not attack Romney for Bain. Positioning for VP?
9:25: Gingrich defends Freddie Mac some more. And defends his "lobbying," if we can even call it that, very nicely, including the mention of an expert who would testify saying he and his businesses never lobbied.
9:27: Romney once again challenges Gingrich on lobbying and Freddie Mac. (Take a drink.) Romney hasn't directly attacked this much since Rick Perry joined in.
9:29-9:32: Gingrich and Romney with the first back and forth of the night. I'm not qualified enough to say who is right, but you know what I like? That was a real debate! Back and forth, exchanging ideas--not canned stump speeches for 60 seconds with a canned 30 second rebuttal.
--Commercial break #1--
9:36-9:39: Williams throws out token questions to Santorum and Paul. Apparently the break extends beyond the commercial.
9:39-9:40: Classic Ron Paul rant against the Federal Reserve. (Take a drink.)
9:43: Romney would thank God if Castro dies? Seems tasteless. And decidedly un-Christian.
9:44: Then Gingrich hints that Castro would go to Hell? Really?? We can say this stuff publicly?
9:45: Ron Paul: "I would pretty much do the opposite." Well, that about sums it up, doesn't it? Makes great points about talking to people instead of fighting. Nice appeal to Cubans there. Could earn a few thousand votes.
9:47: Santorum says that the doctrine of the US is to ensure Western Hemisphere countries are "folks we can deal with." Hear that? That's James Monroe rolling in his grave. Santorum also implies that not only can Iran have nuclear weapons, but that they can and will ship them to Central or Caribbean America without the US knowing about it. I find that unlikely.
9:50: The foreign policy portion of the debate could be called "Three Hawks and a Dove" and get its own Broadway show. Gingrich says that we had no interest in going to war when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Whaaat? Surely he misspoke.
9:51: Paul argues the people don't want a war with Iran. I tend to agree with that assessment. Yet, other Republican candidates seem so willing to quickly go over there. What an interesting disconnect between the Republican Party and Independents/Democrats. Why is this tied to political ideology?
--Commercial break #2--
9:59: Santorum supports Iran bombing. Says they're a threat. Says Iran is like having Al Qaeda in charge. An exaggeration.
10:02: The candidates want English as an official language, but Gingrich and Romney are courting Floridians in Spanish. Good one. Acceptable answers, though, especially once it's validated by small-government Ron Paul.
10:07: On his stance on illegal immigrants, Romney tries to clarify the difference between "Rounding up and deporting" and "sending them home to the back of the line." That was fun.
10:11: Romney back to attacking Obama. Remember when all of his answers had to do with that? Or, as the Romney Campaign calls them, "The good old days."
--Commercial break #3--
10:17: Medical issues. End of life. Santorum asked about his decision to use government intervention in the Terry Schiavo case. This question is probably part of larger government intervention issue also regarding abortion and gay marriage. In other words, is he for small government or isn't he; Is he for small government unless he disagrees with what a state wants?
10:20: Dr. Ron Paul recommends a living will for everyone. (Especially if he becomes president.)
10:21: Should Space exploration be a priority? Romney says yes! Wow, that's an expensive commitment for someone who claims to want to shrink government.
10:23: Gingrich suggests free enterprise is the way to kick-start American space program. Hmmmm... I think I like that!
10:24: Gingrich defends Bush tax cuts saved the economy, which Democrats say is nonsense. Interesting, though when Democrats make similar claims about President Obama's strategy, Republicans bristle. Man I'm sick of these two parties
--Commercial break #4--
10:30: Question: What have you done to further the cause of conservatism??
Romney: Raised a family, worked in private sector to create jobs, worked as a governor in a Democratic state, accomplished a lot. Romney is excellent when reading off talking points.
Gingrich: Went to a Goldwater session, worked on supply-side economics, helped Reagan win election, built a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. Great answer.
Santorum: Tries to separate himself from both others. Says there are differences between himself and them. Points to bailout. Said they rejected conservatism when it was hard to stand. Picks up his passion! Says on key issues there "no difference between Obama and these two men."
10:34: I've descended into sentence fragments. Tired. School tomorrow.
10:35: Paul asked if his competitors are sufficiently conservative. He says no. They'll cut food stamps but not overseas spending. If you're conservative, you reduce government and you protect liberty. Says follow Constitution and everything will be okay. (Take a drink, almost time to pass out.)
10:37: Romney once again has to defend his Massachusetts health care plan. For the record, I always thought he had a good answer here. It's state's rights. It's what Massachusetts wanted. He was their governor. And he never said it should be used for the entire country. What's wrong with that?
10:38-10:40: To close, candidates get to summarize their talking points. That's always good television, right?
Debate over.

General thoughts:
Gingrich rather calm. No huge swings. Wants to show he can be cool, collected, and presidential.
Gingrich's momentum was NOT broken.
Romney made no headway, nor did the others.
Another debate like this and Gingrich should hold onto his recent Florida lead. If Gingrich wins Florida and the party rises against him and Romney... what then? Smoke-filled room! Smoke-filled room!

And with that, I'm done. I'll take a look at Florida tomorrow. And don't forget...

*For the LIVE BLOG on Thursday, I'm hoping to be joined by my Wing Nuts co-writer Steve Kurczy, with whom I share our Construction Lit Magazine column. We need to get the technology worked out, and if we can, expect updates from both of us during Thursday's debates. I (we) hope to see you then.

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