We're getting a late start, which I will blame in slightly unequal parts on bus traffic and on my own irresponsibility. My colleague John Dickerson will wrap the debate after it's over; I'm going to blog what I notice, rank winners according to my own biases and ignorance, and occasionally ask actual economists to comment.
8:10: Our first Perry-ism: "One area we should look at is our domestic energy areas."
8:12: GINGRICH IDEA WATCH: So far, I've got dislike of hippies (people who "don't clean up after themselves" at protests) and the trials of Barney Frank and Chris Dodd for scandals they were never indicted for.
8:18: GINGRICH IDEA WATCH: E-mailing doctors for advice.
8:20: In this format, you really see the reason why the media wants Gingrich to matter: He does think about this stuff, and he does answer on the fly, as opposed to Bachmann, who has just compressed a bunch of stump speech lines into a comibation of words.
8:23: Look for praise of Huntsman's "9-9-9: price of a pizza!" joke, which I'm pretty sure everyone on Twitter made two weeks ago.
8:24: Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, writes in:
Bachman hugely misrepresented Medicare making the decision for her 85-year old friend. Her 85-year old friend will absolutely have the right to get whatever care she wants. She just may not be able to force the taxpayers to pick up the tab.
8:26: Romney: I'm against bailouts. Romney in a March 2009 interview with James Pethokoukis:
The TARP program, while not transparent and not having been used as wisely it should have been, was nevertheless necessary to keep banks from collapsing in a cascade of failures. You cannot have a free economy and free market if there is not a financial system.
This is slippery: Romney's new rationale for supporting TARP was 1) saving "our currency" and 2) not assuming it would have been handled so poorly.
8:30: Comedy Central (yes) has done the actual research on who Cain's wise economic adviser.
8:32: Left on the cutting room floor in Gingrich's decisive answer: He didn't know how the hell to respond to the economic crisis, either. From September 2008:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reversed course on Monday, issuing a statement saying that if he were still in office he would "reluctantly and sadly" support the $700 billion Wall Street bailout bill.
Gingrich, who led the charge against the bailout last week, explained his change in position by saying that the House Republicans, "reinforced by John McCain," have improved the bill "significantly" so it is "less bad" than the original proposal offered by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
8:37: The best part of the debate so far: The revealing "please panic and stop stimulating the economy" ads from the likes of the Peter G. Peterson Insitute.
8:39: Perry gives an unusually good in response to a clip of Ronald Reagan supporting a bargain of taxes and spending cuts. First: This is a fantastic idea for a question frame. Second: Perry is right. The circumstances were different, and Democrats, in control of Congress, never agreed to spending cuts.
8:42: GINGRICH IDEA WATCH: Sequestration is stupid. Also, any cuts to defense will "disarm" America.
8:44: An actual Michele Bachmann quote. "I'm a federal tax lawyer. That's what I do for a living." In point of fact, she's a member of Congress who doesn't currently practice law.
8:46: Nice reality-bending zinger from Cain when he is told that 9-9-9 will raise taxes on some people: "The problem with that analysis is that it's incorrect." It is correct: There are people who currently pay no net income taxes, and no national sales tax, who would start paying a 9 percent income tax and a 9 percent sales tax. Also, this isn't actually going to happen.
8:51: Dean Baker responds to Romney:
We import four times as much as we export to China -- the point Romney is just making. there is no way for us to lose a trade war.
8:54: An actual Santorum quote: "I don't want to get into a trade war. I want to go to war with China."
8:55: Santorum previews a (completely hypothetical) general election argument against Cain: The sales tax would hit people hard, and hit them even after other taxes were tweaked. Has a "fair tax" ever sunk a Republican in a primary?
ROUND ONE RECAP: Perry is lucking out by getting so few questions.
9:05: Bachmann, who volunteered for Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign, dings Rick Perry for supporting Al Gore's 1988 campaign. But heaven forbid that Buddy Roemer or Gary Johnson be invited to a debate!
9:09: Romney completely passes up the chance to hit Cain back after a gotcha question -- the disrespect he had when rebutting Rick Perry two weeks ago is totally absent.
9:12: Dean Baker has more to say about Romney.
Romney doesn't know anything about National Labor Relations Act, since there is no issue about companies being able to build plants in non-union states.
9:14: Paul directs his lone question to Cain, not Perry, as if we needed more proof that Perry's relevance (in New Hampshire especially) can be analyzed in the past tense.
9:20: Why did Romney use his question on Bachmann? Well, there are ominous signs that she may not last until the Iowa caucuses. If she drops out, it's easier for someone like Cain to actually win the state; she stays in, and Romney can eke something.
9:24: Under his breath, after Cain says he will prevent unexpected side-effects of his 9-9-9 plan, Santorum mutters: "You're not going to be president forever."
9:32: A considerable own goal from Cain: In whose mind is "Alan Greenspan" the right answer to a question about an ideal Fed chairman? Dean Baker:
Cain apparently heard about the housing bubble and the downturn caused by its collapse.
That and the Bush tax cuts.
9:35: I think I heard Bachmann suggest that the government shouldn't give favors to people who donate to the incumbents' campaigns. Sorry, every single energy and health care company!
Dean Baker has more to say.
Community breaks are exempted from most of the provisions in Dodd-Frank (contrary to Romney) and inspectors are supposed to write down assets (what does he thinks inspectors do?).
9:42: Newt Gingrich will continue to win these things on points. He really likes everyone at the table! He really, really does. He has no disputes with any of them. His wife Callista's book is on sale now.
9:45: More Dean Baker, on Romney's skepticism about stimulative tax changes:
Romney doesn't know anything about the way employers do business. He said that employers don't hire people for a year or two. In fact, many employers hire people for a month or two. Four million people leave their job every month. You would think that a guy who is so proud of his business background would know something about this.
9:49: Perry's ending on a more verbally coherent, less intellectually coherent kick. The reason we have so much inequality is... the Obama presidency? Sure, why not.
THE WRAP: How did everyone enjoy the first debate where Herman Cain mattered? No real damage was done on 9-9-9 tonight, but there is blood on the floor, finally, and the potential of a real fight about sales taxes, which Cain hasn't had to face since his 2004 Senate run. Cain's response, again and again, was some version of "Shut up, you're wrong." That won't hold.
Rick Perry was as mediocre as ever, and the best you could say was that, unlike in previous debates, his energy level did not flag. It stayed low. He ran to generic answers about energies as if he was ordering a sandwich in an unfamiliar language and only knew a few words.
Michele Bachmann was... wait, why am I bothering? Her only significant moment came when Romney threw her a lifeline, hopeful that the conservative vote would stay split.
Mitt Romney's luck is starting to seem supernatural. Again, and again, and again, he lacks an opponent who can take apart his health care record in Massachusetts, or a moment when such an opponent could really exploit the question.
Newt Gingrich's approach to the debates reminds me of Cain's: Attitude, not answers. Kid gloves for opponents, dazzle when on the spot, very little substance if you break it down -- which in the heat of the moment, you can't.
Jon Huntsman looks like he'd be ready to out-wonk Romney on at least some of his record. Alas, he leans to heavily on jokes that don't work, and on campaign trail talk. Why have him there if he's not going to grapple
Ron Paul was right to go after Cain, as long as you believe the Paul theory that he has not hit his ceiling and that if every other non-Romney gets brought down, he can rise up. Is the Fed the right issue to attack Cain on? It keeps Paul's flock with him -- and there is a disloyal kind of Paul voter who supports anyone anti-establishment.
Rick Santorum's attempt to shoehorn "the family" into an all-economic debate made sense: He has very little credibility on economics, plenty on social issues. (Who thinks that Sen. Santorum would have opposed TARP in 2008, given his record?)