By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Live-blogging the Republican debate

The first Republican presidential debate to feature new frontrunner Rick Perry just ended. I saw two plausible presidents up there — Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Huntsman at this point is on nothing more than a personal ego trip.

Can Romney stop the Perry juggernaut? In large measure it depends on whether Perry’s ignorant, offensive performance tonight comes to be understood as ignorant and offensive. His anti-science views on global warming, his “Ponzi scheme” remarks on Social Security and his stumbling, almost incoherent speaking style should all be disqualifying. They’re not, and that says a lot about the modern Republican Party.

As for Romney — he’s simply not a smooth public performer, and I suspect it’s because he knows he’s surrounded by extremists and doesn’t dare say so.

I live-blogged the debate, which follows.

8:11 p.m. We begin with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry mixing it up while the other candidates are bystanders. Perry says Michael Dukakis created jobs at a faster rate than Romney, and Romney responds by saying the same was true of George W. Bush. Given who the audience is, I’d say Perry got the better of that exchange.

8:19. The backdrop is red, pink and orange. Very disconcerting.

8:20. Herman Cain was the first candidate to invoke God, and Newt Gingrich was the first to say “socialist.” Shall we have a drinking game? Maybe a glass of milk everytime Romney says “gosh”?

8:22. Romney’s explanation for why Massachusetts needed a health-insurance mandate is identical to President Obama’s explanation for why the U.S. needed a mandate.

8:28. Romney is getting creamed on health care. No good deed goes unpunished. It would be interesting if he turned to his fellow candidates and asked, “Why won’t you admit that the health-care mandate was a Republican idea?”

8:30. Far be it from me to defend the news media. Their behavior at these forums is frequently farcical and worse. But Gingrich’s rant against the media’s attempt to stir up trouble among the Republicans was as cynical and ludicrous a ploy as we’re likely to see all night.

@TPM puts it better: “Gingrich to moderators: Stop trying to make us debate!”

8:36. My former Guardian editor Richard Adams is writing a hilarious liveblog about the debate. One quibble: he refers to Gingrich as an “idiot loser.” Technically, he hasn’t lost yet.

8:45. No one has laid a glove on Perry. And Romney has disappeared.

8:50. Attacking Social Security has always worked so well for the Republicans. Good to hear Perry go there. Here are the facts about Social Security.

8:56. Well, this is interesting. Romney made an effective case for Social Security, and took it right to Perry — who responded with a semi-meltdown in which he doubled down on his “Ponzi scheme” nonsense and whined about being attacked. Perry’s stance is wrong and irresponsible on the merits, of course, but it won’t matter unless this gets highlighted as an important moment. (And no doubt everyone is dying to hear more from Cain about “the Chilean model.”)

Oh, good grief. Perry now is saying he feels like “the piñata at the party.” Does this guy have a glass jaw or what?

8:59. What Romney is thinking (I think) on Gardasil: Every one of you is nuts to oppose a simple measure that would protect the health of teenage girls, but I don’t dare say it in front of this crowd.

9:04. The skies have been remarkably safe in the 10 years since 9/11, and all anyone wants to talk about is abolishing or changing the FAA.

9:07. Would someone please vote Newt off the island?

9:08. Now we know why the debate couldn’t be held in Arizona.

9:12. Ah, illegal immigration. I miss Tom Tancredo. Remember his double fence, so that anyone trying to hop over the border would get stuck in the middle?

9:15. Has anyone noticed how much better Michele Bachmann is at this than Rick Perry?

9:19. Every so often, Ron Paul sounds like the most rational person up there. His remarks on illegal immigration were humane and sensible — in stark contrast to everyone else up there. Unfortunately, you can’t have that Ron Paul without the Ron Paul of the $300 silver dime.

9:26. Perry joins the rest of them in saying he would reject a deficit-cutting detail that specified $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Now Huntsman is saying “no pledges.” Didn’t he make the 10-to-1 pledge in the last debate?

9:31. “Keynesian theory and Keynesian experiments are now done,” says Perry. Every one of these people is an economic illiterate except for Romney, and even he’s pretending to be illiterate. Nearly all mainstream economists agree that the problem with the stimulus was that it was too small and too tilted toward tax cuts. Most of the money that did get spent merely offset cuts to state and local government. You can’t say Keynesian economics doesn’t work when it hasn’t been tried. And thank you, Ms. Bachmann, for endorsing Muammar Qaddafi.

9:40. When I hear Perry stumble through his ignorant answer about global warming, I find it’s much healthier to focus on how nice Brian Williams’ new haircut looks.

9:44. The crowd loves death.

9:46. I’ll give Brian Williams and John Harris credit: they have concentrated on forcing Perry to defend the full range of his nutty and offensive views. We’ll see whether it makes any difference.

9:49. Russell Contreras: “As a reporter who covers immigration among other things, I gotta ask…why they gotta have the Latino reporter ask the immigration question during the GOP debate?! Why not have him ask about, I dunno, space exploration.” Great observation.

9:50. And that’s a wrap.

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  1. Dan,

    I too am watching this debate and love your 8:19 post about background colors. I am also concerned by those on stage (they know who they are) who have dark hair but gray sideburns.

    Three more concerns: why do multiple candidates have seven children?

    Why is Newt Gingrich being so surly?

    And will I ever recover from Ron Paul’s accusation of sexual border-crossing by TSA agents?

    Carry on, Dan!

  2. Zhe Lu

    Hi Dan,

    Nice job on the live-blog. I’m enjoying it almost as much as the actual debate itself.

    Hope to see you soon on BTP.


  3. Mike Rice

    This is like visiting a Yugo showroom. Ron Paul is out of his mind. OMG.

  4. Mike Benedict

    “The modern Republican Party.” heh. As Gandhi might say, “It would be a good idea.”

  5. Christian Avard

    I spent my night watching amazing television. When you get a chance Dan, watch this week’s Frontline episode. It’s Faith & Doubt at Ground Zero. Too powerful for words. Frontline did an amazing job. Glad I watched that and not the GOP debate.

  6. Stephen Stein

    Everything I read says Romney appeared “polished”, but that was not my impression. To me he appeared at times to be inarticulate and almost frantic. That’s certainly not the Romney I have come to know.

    • Dan Kennedy

      “That’s certainly not the Romney I have come to know.”

      @Stephen: Really? I think Romney almost always comes across as rushed and frantic when he’s in a pressure situation, and not especially articulate. As was the case last night at times. Romney’s Demosthenes compared to Perry, needless to say.

  7. Bill Hanna

    I think that Perry will have to find a way to successfully backtrack on the Ponzi analogy or he’s a goner. There aren’t enough wingnuts to float that boat, even in the more conservative states. Romney’s chances were enhanced by last evening’s debate.

  8. Stephen Stein

    I seem to remember Romney seeming much more “in control” during his Senate debates in the 90s, and during his run for governor. Or maybe it’s just gauzy memories.

  9. Brian Beaulieu

    You live-blogged the debate? What the hell were you thinking? Don’t you have anything better to do than add to the 24/7, 365-day coverage of politics that is dragging this country down and diverting our attention from important news? People are tired of this constant coverage, which we get because media execs are too lazy and/or too cheap to seek out better stories. Plus, they want that political ad revenue.
    There is not one member of Congress, save for Gabriel Giffords, who deserves our respect. Congress (or as I call it, Comedy Central) hasn’t accomplished anything in more than 40 years and has outlived its usefulness. We need a new system. We are not going to get it until we ignore these jerks. Shining a spotlight on them has not stopped their abhorrent behavior.
    I urge people to not vote, to not pay attention to any politician. England has the right idea in limiting the political season. Politics is fake news. No one really cares. Stop wasting time on this and move on to important topics.
    (By the way, if you are wondering whether I am pulling your leg, I am not. My tongue is often in my cheek, but not this time.)

  10. Laurence Glavin

    A couple of years ago I read Dava Sobel’s book “Galileo’s Daughter”. Subsequently I saw the “Galileo” plays by Bertolt Brecht and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s hubby in Boston-area theaters. At no point do I recall that his most vitriloic opposition came from scientists througout Europe. Rick Perry seems to think that the opposition Galileo experienced came from a cadre of, um, “fair and Balanced” peers who held a differing point of view. Must have learned this in a Texas public school.

  11. Laurence Glavin

    More news on the Boston-radio front: according to the latest mid-summer ratings, all-ultra-conservative-talk outlet WXKS-AM 1200 LOST close to 20,000 listeners and scored a lower fractional rating. A short time ago, the station’s cumulative audience was about the seating capacity of the stadium where the Patriots play; now it’s far less than that. The most recent rating doesn’t reflect the appearance of Jay Severin on that outlet. Fun fact: summer is the time that WXKS-AM’s signal has its greatest early-morning-till-evening coverage. When Eastern Standard Time returns, Jay will have a hard time being heard over much of Metro Boston. I wonder if he’ll bitch and moan about the loss of signal strength at sunset the way Howie Carr does at WRKO-AM. BTW, WXKS-AM’s official City of License for FCC purposes is Newton, NOT Boston because at night, some neighborhoods there, like East Boston and Charlestown, cannot reliably get what is called a nighttime-interference-free signal. (The acronym is NIF, so the FCC is made up of men who say “NIF”.)

  12. Al Fiantaca

    If I came away with any impression of Romney last night it was that he was frantic and inarticulate, which doesn’t give me any comfort at the thought of his being elected president. Bush was always inarticulate, but frantic never seemed to be part of his persona. Romney OTOH, has been flipping and flopping so much from one extreme to another throughout his presidential quest, that he almost seems a little desperate to be accepted by his latest constituency du jour. He seems uncomfortable with his latest changes which are reflected in his inability to seem confident defending them.

  13. Michael Pahre

    Last month at the Iowa debate, I don’t think that the Republican candidates pledged not to take any tax increases — even 10:1 ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases — as part of a deficit-cutting deal. I think they said simply that they wouldn’t have taken such a deal; that isn’t a pledge.

    Huntsman’s point was that pledges are stupid, because you can follow conservative orthodoxy perfectly well without them, i.e., look at my record as governor of Utah. He can pledge not to take pledges and still be perfectly consistent when he says he wouldn’t have taken a 10:1 deal last month.

    Note that Santorum was nuanced about his raised hand, saying that he understood the Iowa debate question posed was about raising taxes on the wealthy. Santorum said that he would agree to the deal if the revenue increases were instead the removal of energy subsidies or part of an overhaul of the tax code.

    Regarding Romney: the last few months he has been looking rather harried when confronting an unscripted encounter with citizens or the media, as you noted. I find this peculiar, since he seemed much smoother in similar situations in the 2007-8 campaign — and as governor.

    I suspect he is floating around in a bubble, being kept away from the public (other than rich, supportive donors) and any uncontrolled situation, in order to avoid making a gaffe that could derail his campaign. He’s rusty and will have increasing problems down the road if he keeps hiding away from the public.

  14. C.E. Stead

    DK – did you miss Ron Paul’s assertion that The Fence misght be to keep illegal immigrants out today, but tomorrow it misth be used to KEEP US IN?

    I will be a happier person when fewer of Ron Paul’s prognostications actually come to pass – like the preliminary audit of the Fed vindictes him, for example.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @C.E.: I might have been momentarily dazed by glint of the $300 dime.

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