NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The home audience didn't get to see John King's attempt at a warm-up act. Your loss.
8:04: The pre-debate media drama was all about The Atlantic's Molly Ball being kept out of the media room thanks to overcrowding. A couple of people noticed.
8:08: John King opens with a question about Gingrich's second wife Marianne and her new interview with Brian Ross. Gingrich -- to the suprise of no one with more than two brain cells -- uses the opportunity to literally point his finger at "the elite media" for having the audacity to ask. "To take an ex-wife, and make it an issue two days before an election, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine."
At this point, CNN's pander-riffic decision to bring members of Tea Party Patriots into the room becomes especially fun. The audience explodes with applause, whistles, and (I'm assuming) a dude with a rainbow wig and a "John 3:16" sign.
8:15: Romney proves that he can elide questions and attack the basis of questions just as well as Gingrich can. The question from John King: "Do the math" on how many jobs Bain Capital created. The answer from Romney: I'll shove Barack Obama's attack on capitalism right back at him!
8:21: Santorum, who would have the best claim on blue collar voters if it wasn't for Ron Paul, makes a fascinating distinction. He is for "capitalism, but not necessarily high finance." He's worrying a crack in the free market argument: People who like business might have no respect for financiers. Building a factory is admirable. Chopping up CDOs isn't.
8:33: Gingrich's "moment" on Monday, remember, was a resounding call for people to get serious about encouraging "poor people to find work," and young kids to learn work ethics. He returns to the well with this health care answer, on why the PPACA's extension of family insurance to kids under 26: "They can't get any jobs to get off their parents' insurance!"
8:39: That might have been the ultimate Gingrich answer: 1) book plug, 2) reminder that he wants seven 3-hour debates with Obama, 3) teleprompter joke. But I doubt he wants people to actually visit the dark parts of the Center for Health Transformation website.
8:48: Santorum attacks Newt with a line that any Republican veteran of the 1990s could use: "I don't want a nominee where I'm going to open the paper and worry about what he said."
8:51: If nothing else, this debate has shifted the definition of "grandiose" much as Alanis Morrisette's "Ironic" ruined the definition of "ironic." It's usually pejorative, but it has a secondary meaning that allows it as a synonum for "really large." And I'm guessing Gingrich was going for the secondary definition.
8:54: Mark it: Mitt Romney has, for the first time, defined Bloomfield Heights as "the real streets of America."
9:00: The tax return question was totally predictable, and Mitt Romney blew it. He "may" release more returns for other years. Will he release as many years as possible, as his father did? "Maybe." Maybe! There are justifiable boos from the cheap seats.
9:07: Funny thing: CNN, the network that has asked Paul the most questions about his old newsletters, has yet to field any questions about them tonight. My theory is that Paul's failure to win Iowa was a blessing -- his media coverage returned to baseline levels. The New Republic has issued a new batch of archived newsletters, and as far as I've seen few people have bothered to ask Paul about them. There's some time left for King, of course.
9:14: Newt's cynicism is a beautiful thing to behold. He's a movie-lover, and he's produced multiple documentaries, most of which he's narrated with his wife. And yet he answers the SOPA question, at first, with a joke about the loathesomeness of Hollywood.
9:18: Santorum is our lone semi-sympathetic voice on SOPA. "This idea that anything goes on the Internet -- where did that come from?" I really shouldn't have to bring this up, but Santorum has actually approached Google about reversing the damage Dan Savage has done to his name.
9:24: That was awfully quick, Romney campaign.
9:32: Not wanting to be overly pessimistic, I must ask: Have any issues been clarified in the many, many debate rounds about immigration? We've brought candidates down with gotchas and statements that pissed off Republicans.
9:41: Gingrich gets the better of the social conservative campaigning question, easily. Of course you don't lead with social issues to win a national campaign! You get everyone on board with your position, and you lead with what's popular? Santorum's insistence that the GOP failed at something by not mentioning social issues in the Pledge to America is astrategic.