Debate Thread: Orlandodammerung

Debate Thread: Orlandodammerung

Debate Thread: Orlandodammerung

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 22 2011 9:03 PM

Debate Thread: Orlandodammerung

Here we go again on our own. I will be writing from this filing center.

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Yes, really. Not pictured: Our fearless commander, James T. Kirk. In the age of Twitter it seems silly to blog every little item; I will focus on scoring and musing after each round of questions.

9:03: Gary Johnson's "yes, yes, I made it in" wave was priceless.

9:10: In 2008, CNN sponsored the YouTube debates and got a hearty mix of weird questions. Remember the global warming snowman? Fox's questions, so far, are pushing the conversation to the comfortable right.

9:13: The truth about job training as a way of saving America is sort of unpleasant.

9:18: ROUND ONE: The questions left every candidate on comfortable terrain. (Did anyone wonder how Ron Paul would answer the 10th Amendment question?) Gary Johnson, learning from his free-form performance back in May, decided to produce a solid non-answer to his easy question: He'd vetoed more bills than all other governors combined! (This is true.) Santorum pledged to ban public sector unions, which is actually a more likely outcome in 2013 than "President Rick Santorum."

9:26: If Romney actually pulls off this trick of transferring the flip-flop label to Perry, it will be one of the great political jujitsu routines. He frames it well: "You better find that Rick Perry, and get him to stop saying that." Perry stumbles over his attack. Oh, sure, it comes out eventually, but imagine that James Joyce mumble as a short TV clip. You can't! I've actually read both of these damn books and I don't get what Perry was trying to say.

9:36: What department would you abolish? The safe answer is the EPA Johnson and Paul want to abolish the Department of Education, and Paul is right: This was long a Republican platform plank. Perry takes the opportunity to attack Romney on something he just said, some friendly praise -- general election talk -- about the Obama department of education. "Being in favor of the Obama race to the top, that is not conservative." According to Politico, Perry is right, but Romney -- who isn't actually the frontrunner right now! -- managed to ignore the attack as if it was the fading gasp of Thaddeus McCotter.

9:46: My friend David Mark points out that Gingrich voted for the 1986 amnesty. This stuff might matter if Gingrich were running for president, but he's really just an elder statesmen stating ideal policies that someone else can pick up and run with if he wants to. (And if he wants to get heat for it.)

9:48: It's somewhat jarring to hear the term "illegals" like this, no?

9:52: The discussion of "subsidizing" illegal immigrants for college tuition is a bit odd. The non-citizens in question live in Texas; they're getting the subsidies that anyone else who lives in Texas would get. The Santorum position: It's unfair to do anything but charge them out-of-state tuition. A fair argument, but it requires a big wrenching move of the goalpost.

9:54: ROUND TWO: Romney's strategy: Pretend that every question from Perry is the product of an enfeebled mind. It's working fairly well, with no real follow-ups from other candidates, who are either gasping for airtime or attacking Perry.

10:17: The boos for the gay soldier will be a story. It's too bad the question was wasted on Santorum, who won't win the nomination, and whose position on this is 1) pretty well known and 2) glib. How is a decision to exclude people of one sexual preference not a social policy?

10:26: Bachmann gets another bite at the HPV vaccine question, saying exactly what she said in Tampa, before she lost control of the conversation. Perry gives a brand new canned response: "I was lobbied on this. I was lobbied by a 31-year old woman with stage 4 cancer." Advantage: Romney.

10:30: The pattern is now unmissable: Romney responds to every Perry accusation by laughing and implying that he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. Perry doesn't help: The attacks sound canned. Everyone's got a canned attack, sure, but you don't have to sound that way.

10:34: ROUND THREE: Maybe style shouldn't matter so much, but Perry sounds exhausted. A direct quote: "Opportunity is very much the word of the day there, if you will, for finding work and what have you." And because no one is using time to attack anyone but Perry, Romney keeps skating away.

10:41: By a remarkable coincidence, all of the policies the candidates have supported for years are the ones that will rebuild the economy. Gingrich's answer was particularly meaningless: Repeating Ronald Reagan's zinger about Jimmy Carter's defeat meaning "recovery."

10:45: And Gary Johnson makes it into the debate highlight reels. Well done.

10:50: After that hypothesis about a Cain/Gingrich "breeding," I ask: would Santorum let a gay Cain/Gingrich/canine hybrid serve in the Air Force?

10:53: Bachmann's using this line about how the GOP has an opportunity to nominate the most conservative candidates is somewhat double-edged. Taken another way, it could be: "Obama's so unpopular, even I could win. Me! Seriously!"

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.