Second Republican Florida Debate Liveblog/Recap
Here we go, folks. Last debate before the last “early” primary and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Who won and lost? What happened minute-by-minute? Keep mashing refresh to find out.
Good evening, team. Could the stakes be any higher for Romney or Gingrich? Let’s find out how things are going to go. I’m sitting here with my colleague Justin Vassallo, once again, as we did so many times before, watching this slog-through.
This was a stupid debate. A stupid, stupid debate. Virtually none of the questions were new, and Wolf Blitzer just reaffirmed why he’s such a hapless loser on Celebrity Jeopardy – he’s not very smart.
He did, however, beat Newt Gingrich (with Mitt Romney’s help) at his own game by pressing him to answer questions about a negative attack on Romney, which put the capstone on a first hour that demolished the former insurgent. Yes, Newt Gingrich, who had such a marvelous run in the South Carolina “season,” was beaten to a bloody pulp by Mitt Romney, who from the very start played Gingrich’s own game, trading in outrage and dripping with contempt. It worked.
But just when it looked like Romney was cruising, Rick Santorum came out of nowhere and slammed him on RomneyCare in a vicious exchange that really made Romney look bad. Does Santorum have any shot in Florida? No – and it’s very doubtful he will in the nomination, period. But he demonstrated why Romney is still going to be a weak-sauce general election candidate in the long run by running to his right and forcing him to equivocate.
This is the last scheduled Republican debate until mid-February, so this is my opportunity to say I’ve enjoyed recapping them for you, even though watching them has become somewhat Clockwork Orange-y. Thank you very much for reading along! I hope it’s been somewhat useful to you in water cooler conversation and so forth.
1. Romney. He hired a new debate coach before this debate – Michele Bachmann’s old one. It showed. Bachmann could deliver a line, even if she couldn’t follow up. Romney can do both, and, it turns out, he’s a good enough actor to learn how to display contempt. He took the first opportunity he had (on immigration) to pummel Gingrich and didn’t let up. Newt just looked like he was deep within his moon base the entire time, totally flummoxed and out of his element. Aggro-Romney conquered Gingrich, and while he wasn’t prepared for Santorum, Santorum’s own effective concession of Florida basically means he won’t be a real contender. Romney needed one final knockout. He got it tonight.
2. Santorum. Aggro-Santorum was better at punching Romney than Romney was Gingrich, but he had to wait until Romney was done pummeling his serious rival before he could get his own shots in. His answers on foreign policy were truly along the lunatic fringe (does anyone think Bolivia is harboring “Islamists”? Does anyone think Obama mis-handled Honduras, or supports Chavez?), but they play to the base. And his empathy was higher than Romney’s, too. But because Gingrich wound up the anointed anti-Romney tonight, he didn’t have the airtime needed to cement his position as an alternative.
3. Gingrich. And now the true Newt Gingrich comes out, the man we saw the first two times he rose from the dead. A joke of a man. Beaten, weary, and unwilling to do the hard work to maintain his position as a frontrunner. He simply lives for the moments, those transient moments, when he is the world-historical figure in the minds of a few columnists.
His final answer, in discussing his position in Congress in 1980 and 1994, was particularly indicative. He only wants to remember those brief good times, not the hard work everyone else did or his subsequent failures. And now, with a moderator who was too inadvertently sharp to let him get away with lambasting the process and an opponent who actually wholly shifted tactics to beat him, Gingrich has finally fallen apart.
Goodbye, Mr. Speaker. The only people who will miss you at this point were the Democrats who would’ve greatly preferred to run against you.
4. Paul. Ron Paul actually had a fine debate tonight, but he didn’t care and neither did anyone else. His supporters are not going to vote for the other three gentlemen, and it’s the reverse with the other gentlemen’s supporters. He’ll be a thorn in Romney’s side once Gingrich is gone, but that’s about it.
8:07 This procedural nonsense is so old now that we’re just gonna skip over describing it. Instead, let’s go to intros!
8:09 Cheers from the audience are loudest for Romney… ominous/telling.
8:10 This is a good time to point out that Wolf Blitzer is a lousy moderator and a lousy anchor. With that said, first question from the audience: how will you enforce immigration laws? Blitzer tacks on a question about Romney’s “self-deportation.”
Santorum, cleverly, agrees with Romney (taking support away from Gingrich), then gives exactly the same answer to this question as he gave last debate.
Santorum, FYI, is not even competing in Florida anymore. He’s on the Ron Paul level in this race. It’s a two-man show.
8:13 Gingrich’s first answer is very wonky, and his reedy voice is trying hard to project gravitas early.
8:15 Romney, by lack of contrast, also gives a wonky answer and contributes heavily on the compassion side – his internal polling must show him with a more commanding lead, as he’s far more confident tonight than he was last time.
8:16 A brief Pauline interlude, in which he gets applause for mentioning the AfPak border.
8:18 Oh Gingrich. “You have to be realistic in your indignation,” he says, when Blitzer asks him to focus on why he called Romney anti-immigration. He gets applause when he talks about making English the “official language of government.”
8:20 Oh wow. Massive fight between Romney and Gingrich. First Gingrich says Romney is still the most anti-immigrant candidate, and Romney uses his own tactics against him! Calls that kind of talk inexcusable. Gingrich, in return, says “what would you call” his position on “deporting grandmothers,” Romney says he didn’t say that, that he merely said he would follow the law. Gingrich tries to paint Romney as a flip-flopper, saying one thing earlier and another thing now, but Romney is playing on Gingrich’s home turf, and he clearly has the better of the argument.
8:23 Romney won that exchange, big time, but he stumbled a bit by saying “I don’t see every ad… did [Gingrich] say that?” regarding Spanish as “the language of the ghetto”? Still, in the afterglow of the moment, he manages to pivot to his record on English education in MA.
8:25 Question on foreign engagement in Central-and-South America. Ron Paul says it’s time for “friendship with Cuba” and fucks himself over in Florida. Then Santorum gives a totally bizarro conspiracy-theory argument in which he says that Obama supported Chavez and Castro in Honduras, and goes on to his classic “Islamo-fascism” South American ridiculous conspiracy-theory answer. Who said Ron Paul was the conspiracy-theory candidate?
Santorum: “Why did [Obama] hold up a Colombian free trade agreement?”
CEC: “BECAUSE THEY RAN AN UNDEMOCRATIC ELECTION, YOU FUCKWIT.”
8:28 Ruh-roh, fact check time, Blitzer breaks back in and says that the “Spanish is the language of the ghetto” ad… is Romney’s! And he gets booed! Then he says “well, did you say that?” to Gingrich; Gingrich says “it was taken out of context,” that he believes English should be the national language, etc.
8:30 Fannie/Freddie fight. Romney is utterly contemptuous of Gingrich, and going hard. Gingrich brings up that Romney had invested into them, but Romney smashes Gingrich right back, noting that his investments are all in mutual funds and bonds, and in a blind trust to boot.
Romney got wonky when talking about things like having a trustee for his blind trust, but that kind of discussion may not play too well in the general.
8:34 Paul gets good applause for his typical reform posturing, and a bonus for laughing at Wolf Blitzer for asking about Romney/Gingrich.
8:36 Santorum gets the biggest applause of the evening for saying that both Gingrich’s consulting and Romney’s personal wealth are irrelevant to the “broader issues.”
CEC: “This is the worst fucking debate so far. I cannot stand Wolf Blitzer.”
JHV: “I can see Wolf Blitzer in a Cormac McCarthy novel. His eyes gleaming out of the darkness, staring at the protagonist. Wolf Meridian.”
8:44 Oh lord. Major tax-release debate, and Romney clocks poor Gingrich. Gingrich tries to pan from personal attacks, Romney says he should say on the stage what he says on the campaign trail, and on the Swiss Bank account. Romney repeats that his money is in a blind trust, etc. etc. etc., and Gingrich, along the way, gets booed. He is way off his game tonight.
8:47 Minor candidates debate! Nothing really happens, though. Santorum plays the Reagan card pretty well. He’s outperforming Newt thus far.
8:51 SPACE COAST QUESTION. Romney says he’d rather be re-building housing.
Now let’s go to Gingrich! He says NASA bureaucracy is mismanaging it. “What does the Washington office of NASA do? Does it think space?” Gives the prize speech from last debate again.
8:55 Minor candidates again. Nothing either way. Boooo-ring. I’d rather be watching a space movie up at the Rose Planetarium at this point. So boring Wolf Blitzer cuts Ron Paul off.
8:57 Gingrich gives a lovely speech about MOON and how much he loves MOON. Then Romney shoots him down, saying “promising hundreds of millions of dollars state-to-state got us into this mess on the first place.”
9:01 Oh dear, Wolf Blitzer has lost the debate. Ron Paul takes the opportunity to attack Newt’s response on the balanced budget, saying that he didn’t, actually… he borrowed from Social Security! Powwwwwww.
9:03 Very damaging question from the audience: the questioner is unemployed. She needs medical care – what would you do? Paul says she’s suffering because government has inflated the cost of health care.
Gingrich says the problem is that (a) she needs a job (repeal ObamaCare, repeal Dodd-Frank, repeal Sarbennes-Oxley) and (b) “reform the insurance system” (giving a description somewhere between freelancer’s insurance and ObamaCare without a mandate).
Romney agrees, allows himself the luxury of wonking out, discussing “this young woman,” pivots to Obama.
9:05 Santorum hammers Gingrich and Romney together for supporting ideas similar to Obamacare. He’s having a good night.
9:08 Gingrich has given up. He looks tired. He knows he lost bad earlier. Meanwhile, Romney gives the exact same answer he’s given before and gets applause. Santorum tries to pounce on it, saying it’s about fundamental fights on rights, whether at the state or federal level. Romney lets out a diss – “I make enough mistakes not for you to add mistakes” or something of the like. He makes the sell, but it sounds exactly like Obamacare, and the audience applauds it!
Oh dear, they fight forever, Santorum and Romney, with Santorum’s face peeling back in disgust as he hammers it in again and again: Romneycare is Obamacare.
9:15 Oh Newt Gingrich, are you still here? After Ron Paul talks about his beautiful era in which MediCare didn’t exist, Gingrich agrees with it.
9:17 What? A question about what “Hispanic” people they’d appoint to their cabinets. And the Republicans, all about “non-identity,” “colorblind” politics, pander to it (except Ron Paul, who just makes an ethnic generalization in true old-timey fashion).
9:18 Blitzer’s outro sting: “I’ll ask why their wives would make good first ladies.”
JHV: “What? Is that a real fucking question?”
CEC: “I hate this. I hate it so.”
JHV: “I’m just waiting for one of them to say something totally inappropriate about Michelle Obama.”
CEC: “The most popular woman in America? Yeah. Sounds about right. Let’s see that.”
9:23 Please kill me, we’re back, asking about why their wives would make first ladies.
I DO NOT CARE ABOUT THIS AND THEIR WIVES DON’T CARE ABOUT IT EITHER SO PLEASE WOLF BLITZER STOP THIS NONSENSE.
9:28 A question to Romney – you said you didn’t want to return to Reagan/Bush, so why are you attacking Newt? There’s really not much there, but Romney gets away with pivoting to the national election. Gingrich, by contrast, just looks like he’s running for president of talk radio.
9:35 Oh, on Cuba again. Ron Paul says “I don’t think people see a jihadist under the bed every night” in response to BIZARRO SANTORUM’s BIZARRO-WORLD. Romney and Gingrich just repeat exactly what they said last time.
9:38 A Palestinian questioner! He says “I’m Palestinian, we do exist.” Romney says the Palestinians are the problem because “they want to eliminate the state of Israel” and says “we will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our allies in Israel.” Gingrich just talks about the usual talking points.
9:43 Question on Puerto Rico, who cannot vote. Santorum gladly takes it, eager for more airtime, I suppose.
9:46 How would your religious beliefs impact you in office? Boring boring boring boring boring boring. Romney gets through the question without once mentioning the word “Mormon.” It’s dodgy, sure, but it doesn’t matter – he’s destroyed Gingrich in the first hour and he can just coast from here on out.
But of course Santorum says that America is based on “God-given” rights, and that therefore “faith has everything to do with it.” Oh, right.
9:54 Finally, last question: why will you beat Obama?
PAUL: Civil liberties! I undermine Obama, the foreign policy is different, etc., etc., peace and prosperity.
ROMNEY: (going right into his closing of his stump speech) “we’re headed in a dangerous direction,” etc. etc., private sector, scale back size of government, yet (somehow) grow the military. I know how to win, I’m outside of Washington, no “changing chairs” in DC (a Gingrich swipe).
GINGRICH: Participated in the the two largest sweeps in Republican history, etc., but he’s running for his grandchildren, you know, etc.
SANTORUM: It’s about who America’s going to be, blah blah blah, I’m a lot better than Romney & Gingrich (closing hard). Ooh, the “global warming hoax.” Then talks about manufacturing etc etc.
AND IT IS MERCIFULLY OVER. Last debate for a month, and nobody is happier than I am.
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