Slate political correspondents John Dickerson and David Weigel were on our Facebook page to chat with readers about last night's GOP presidential debate and the state of the 2012 election. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
John Dickerson: Hi everyone. The Hilton Garden Inn room I'm in doesn't have a desk so this is a test of my ability to answer questions and the laptop's ability to not catch on fire.
Dave Weigel: I'm here, having raced/crawled through traffic from the airport. Ready, raring.
Gabby Weiss: Do you think that Huntsman is the dark horse candidate here? Will saner heads prevail?
Collin Czarnecki: I second Gabby's question.
John Dickerson: Gabby I'm just not sure Huntsman can break through. He's inching up in N.H. but he just doesn't feel like he connects with the voting gut of a party that this year is voting with its gut (not that they don't normally, actually).
Christophe Diederich: How serious is Obama about stopping Iran from becoming a nuclear power?
John Dickerson: Christophe we can't really know how serious he is because much of what's going on is covert, but with scientists dying, computer worms crashing centrifuges and drones crashing in Iran I'd say there's a pretty high level of seriousness.
John Dickerson: Though obviously a lot of that is Israel too.
Brian Lemieux: How do you see the Republican message evolve from the primaries to the general election against Obama?
Dave Weigel: Good question, because my assumption for a very long time was that the Three Stooges-esque dogpile of conservative candidates would allow Mitt Romney to slip through and win the nomination without making too many concessions to the right. He just started making concessions, basically, this month, starting when he hit Newt Gingrich for a lack of Ryan plan philo-ism. If it's Romney, you'll see him tack right back to the "Obama's a good guy, he just can't create jobs or lead the military" lines if he wins. If Gingrich pulls this off? Wow. Much less sure.
Brian Lemieux: Thanks for the answer Dave, I also wonder what a protracted primary between Mitt and Newt would do ... months of trying to prove who hates Obama more would make it harder for Mitt to tack back to "Obama's a good guy" if he wins the nomination.
Thomas F Schaller: Hey John, hey Dave: My thought was Paul was the big loser last night. No?
John Dickerson: Hey Tom. I think Paul has his own weather. His supporters love him and nothing he did in the debates will hurt him. Can he grow his vote? That has always been his problem. I'm not sure a debate one way or the other can help him with that. I thought going into the debate that he might be a top finisher in Iowa and I still do.
Thomas F Schaller: Has his own weather—love that. I of course don't think he lost any of his devotees. ... I just wonder if any of his recent movement in IA got stunted as he (finally) came under a bit of attack and found himself giving answers on Iran and Supreme Court justices that may not sit well with non-Paulites. ps: have a good holiday season.
Dave Weigel: Thomas—yes, the take I was getting from non-aligned Republican strategists was that Paul blew it by being ... Ron Paul. He'd been picking up support among Republicans by running on life, deregulation, etc. and etc. When I was in his Iowa HQ yesterday, I noticed that he had 14 pieces of campaign literature, and almost nothing about foreign policy. And yet he took a series of big, fat swings on foreign policy that sounded—even if you agree with him—unpresidential. If you're a conservative Republican imagining the guy in the White House, part of the fantasy is a strong (sigh, Reagan-esque) commander in chief. Despite being a veteran with, I think, a very defensible America First theory of the world, Paul didn't broadcast anything like the fantasy.
Thomas F Schaller: Thx, Dave.
Brian Ries: Will Ron Paul see a direct bump in the polls for his fiery criticism of Michele Bachmann's Iranian warmongering?
John Dickerson: Brian I'd be surprised if the GOP primary and caucus voters who pick their candidates based on their anti-war views have not already discovered Ron Paul.
Pat Wente: Is the anybody-but-Romney just an anti-Mormon stance? If anyone embodies family values, living your religion, and free market capitalism it's Romney. Yet he's behind Newt? So you think the GOP’s chickens have come to roost, as it were? If you court the middle-class fundamentalists with your faux family values stance and lure them into voting against their economic interests, should you be surprised to learn that their Sunday night prayer meetings have included months-long programs on the evils of the Mormon cultists?
John Dickerson: Pat, I'm not sure about the Mormon thing. Clearly it's a thing with some evangelicals. But they have so many other reasons to dislike Romney. Changing positions for political reasons (the rap against Romney) is among the most toxic problems in politics. How do we know? It's one of the critiques that Romney is launching at Gingrich.
Pat Wente: Thanks, John.
Josh Krantz: The oppo file on Gingrich is huge, so why does Romney seem averse to going negative?