Dave Weigel: He's not averse at all! I point you to the ad Romney's super PACE—sorry, the TOTALLY NOT ALIGNED super PAC—is now running in Iowa. I heard it many times when there this week.
At this point Romney's team is only using stuff in the public record, not pioneering new Newt attacks. To a pretty large degree, they're letting attacks get tested in the media, especially conservative media, before they shoot. But that's still negative!
John Dickerson: Josh, Romney has been going negative and will again if Gingrich wins some contests. Romney didn't go negative last night because a) it can look unattractive in a debate, b) it makes Newt stronger and c) might not be necessary because Gingrich is already falling
Beth Young: Will they all sign a pledge to the American People that they will not allow the payroll tax cut to expire? It will save each taxpayer $1,000 on average.
Beth Young: Will they have to give up their No Taxes mantra if they let the payroll tax expire?
Dave Weigel: Beth—nope, they will not sign anything like that. It's not in their interest to defend the president in any way. It's actually a bit surprising that Romney has given some cover to the Democrats' plan. But the payroll tax debate represents a big lurch to the right (in terms of what's desirable/actionable in Congress), so the GOP candidates hardly need to say more.
Brian Shortt: I know it's early to start the expectations game, but are any of the early primaries “do or die” for the candidates? I figure Huntsman has to do better than expected in NH to continue, while Paul will go on regardless of results. What about the others?
John Dickerson: Brian you're right about Huntsman. Bachmann has to do well in IA. Perry has money to live to SC but if he can't do something there he's done. Romney has to do very well in NH.
Dave Weigel: Brian—about the "do or die" thing ... I'd say Bachmann needs to place in the top three in Iowa (where, she likes to remind us, she was born) or she's out. Santorum and Perry could muddle on to South Carolina, but I don't see how Santorum lasts past SC (where he's got a nice network). Perry, if he doesn't break out by then, is on life support, just as Fred Thompson was at the same point in 2008. And it's really over for John Huntsman if he doesn't shock us with second place in New Hampshire.
Brian Shortt: Thanks John. I'm sure every primary has the same pattern of one candidate racing to a lead and then falling back to the pack or out altogether, but it seems more like whack-a-mole than any others I can recall. Have you seen it to this extent in campaigns you've previously covered and does it make it easier or harder (or is it just different)? It has to be more interesting than if Romney was just walking away with it.
John Dickerson: ’96 is the closest I can think of on the Republican side but it wasn't like this. In ‘96 there was a Forbes moment, a Buchanan moment and an Alexander moment but it wasn't debate fueled and news cycle fueled like this race has been.
Liam Murray: As a UK observer it's strange to see only 1 broadly centrist/mainstream Republican (Romney) in a sort of “tag team” primary with 5 or 6 others of more ideological bent, each getting their turn but ultimately receding. Was there nobody else seriously challenging for that “serious candidate” hat? Feels like Huntsman came closest but other than that ....
Dave Weigel: Liam, did you pay much attention to the 2001 open party primary that ended up electing Iain Duncan Smith as Tory leader? This is like that, except obviously much more chaotic. The Republican base views "serious" and "moderate" as code words for the media forcing loser candidates who won't challenge Barack Obama on what they see as massive socialism. This is why Huntsman hasn't taken off. Even if he does well in New Hampshire, no one can explain to me how he'll survive in South Carolina and Florida, closed primaries with extremely radicalized GOP voters.
John Dickerson: Everyone read Weigel's answer to Liam above.
Liam Murray: Thanks Dave. Interesting comparison with IDS because he lasted only a couple of years of course and never even got to fight an election, largely because even the Tories who warmed to him initially realized he didn't have a chance of beating Blair. Even his replacement—Michael Howard—was widely seen as a placeholder for the younger Cameron post 2005 defeat. I guess my point is as soon as you hit a real campaign it'll become clear that "moderate" isn't “code” for anything; it's a straightforward way of saying the broader US electorate won't elect an extreme from either party.
Liam Murray: I don't doubt the idea that the GOP base dismisses 'moderate' or 'sensible' as 'lamestream media code' for the exact sort of candidate they DON'T want but there's a question around why that's the case? Why they've become so distrustful of the centre. This Guardian piece on Fox News perhaps speaks to why....
Roland Paquette: Wouldn't anyone like to know if Newt has had connections with former Chief Executive Officer Daniel H. Mudd, former Chief Risk Officer Enrico Dallavecchia, and former Executive Vice President of Fannie Mae's Single Family Mortgage business, Thomas A. Lund—who were named in the SEC's complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.