Live Blogging the Republican Debate (Nevada Version)

Do you think Rick Santorum gets style points for singing the national anthem?

Perry looks energized – in the introductions.  Let’s see if it lasts.

Gingrich has the best opening introduction, one that targets Obama, not other Republicans.  Right from the Gingrich debate playbook.

Looks like Cain is the early target.  Welcome to frontrunner status.

Here’s a new twist: Cain’s 9-9-9 plan will lower birthrates!  Gotta love Santorum.  And comparing it to European value added tax – ouch! Socialism!

Looks like the sales tax will be the target tonight.

Perry is ready – so far.  (And what’s this “brother” talk from Perry?)  Perry also makes a nice gesture to New Hampshire voters.

By the way, this is the first time I’ve heard Cain acknowledge that he might make concessions to low income earners in his sales tax provisions. (Jack – this answers the question you raised today).

Romney has been strangely silent.   Ooops – now he piles on.  Mixing his fruit, but it is the line everyone is using against Cain’s plan.

Poor Herman – wonder how he feels about leading the polls now?

Gingrich continues to play elder statesman, and does it effectively.  And yet he takes a gentle jab on Cain’s lack of experience too, in noting that significant policy change takes years, and that we should be focusing on plans that are feasible and have an immediate impact.

Part of the problem with this format is that it’s hard to distinguish the various economic plans being discussed.  Bachmann is particularly vulnerable here.

Perry is back on the energy kick.  I’m not sure what’s driving this, unless he links it to his yet to be revealed economic plan.  Meanwhile he continues to trip over his own words.  Does anyone know what he just said here?

Santorum also has the Bachmann problem – his plan sounds pretty much like the other plans.  Finally, someone takes on Romney on Romneycare.  Will they come to blows? Will Mitt’s hair get mussed?  Santorum looks ready to blow here.  Good stuff!

The best attack on Romney yet – and Romney now seems to defend his plan by saying Massachusetts voters like it – not the best political defense when you have to rest on support from a Democratic state.

(Ever notice how Bachmann laughs at everything Newt says?)  Newt also takes on Mitt in more subtle fashion than Rick, but perhaps more effectively.  Mitt is ready with a nice retort, throwing Newt’s past support for individual mandates against him, but the longer this goes on, the more it focuses on the wrong issue for Mitt.  He needs to get off this topic.  Ah, saved by Bachmann.

Cooper so far is moderating with a very light touch, which has allowed the food fight to break out.

By the way, what happened to Cain?  Is he still on stage?  It’s tough with 8 people to get equal input. 

Here’s Cain on health care – let’s see how he does when he gets off 9-9-9.

Perry has got to be careful on the immigration issue here – because Romney will come back here.  Wow, bringing up hiring illegal immigrants – this is an old story. Did he say the “heith” of hypocrisy?   

This was the obvious opening, and Romney didn’t miss it: back to the illegal immigrants tuition issue again.  Perry should have seen this coming. 

Interesting exchange here.  Mitt sounds miffed.  He’s giving a pretty good defense here to Perry’s accusations which seem a little forced, frankly.  Perry seems overly amped this time – what medication is he on?

Perry is doing a little better on the immigration issue, although the Predator drone idea can be easily misconstrued.  

Bachmann is back on Obama’s case with the red meat for her base:  build a fence, English only language, etc.  It gets applause, but is it feasible? 

Perry just isn’t a smooth debater.  And the immigration issue just isn’t a winner for him anymore than healthcare is for Romney. Frankly, Perry’s attack on the Romney lawn care crew just doesn’t seem to be resonating.

Cooper questions the 14th amendment, but it is a stupid question and no one wants to respond, and rightly so. Instead, Cain pivots to jobs and Perry to energy and mining in Nevada.  That will teach Cooper not to play professor.

Santorum continues to hammer away at the family values angle, but so far without much to show for it.

(Kate – Romney, I think, is vulnerable on Romneycare, but at this point he has his defense down pat, so it’s not clear to me how much his opponents are going to gain on this issue.  But that won’t stop them from trying.)

Yucca Mountain – Newt has come the closest anyone on the panel will in endorsing Yucca as a nuclear waste site. This is a sensitive issue for the locals, and there’s no payoff tonight for endorsing Yucca.  Move on.

Did Perry just forget which amendment deals with states rights?

The argument is getting a bit bogged down here on who supported TARP, and why. 

This is probably Bachmann’s strongest point tonight – she’s coming across as relevant rather than extremist in discussing the impact of foreclosure on families and women.

Here’s Cain’s chance to walk down the “Blame Yourself” quote, and he doesn’t take it – instead he doubles down on the quote, to big applause. Cue Paul and the attack on the Federal Reserve.   It’s deja vu all over again.

Paul’s on pretty strong ground in playing the “don’t blame the victims card” and pointing the finger at “Wall St”, which is a pretty convenient target.

Break Number 2.  If pundits are waiting for “the moment” that begins to whittle the field, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen tonight. Everyone is playing their familiar roles.  Romney is holding his own, Cain remains unflappable, Perry is struggling once again, Paul is attacking the Federal Reserve and Bachmann promises to fight the good fight. I think Newt slipped a bit when he went negative on Mitt, but otherwise he’s been strong.  Santorum, meanwhile, remains angry.

Interesting response here by Santorum to the “Mormon cult” question – he seems to be defending Mitt, but in some respects he refocuses attention on the tenets of the Mormonism.  Newt, in some respects, does the same – he defends Mitt but invites further questioning of Mitt’s beliefs.   It will be interesting to see what Mitt says here. 

Mitt’s response is both a defense of his faith but also a political attack on Perry for not taking a stronger stance against the Pastor.  But Mitt doesn’t want to linger on this issue either.

Haven’t had much foreign policy discussion this electoral season.  Bachmann gets on her horse here, without bothering to answer the question of how much to cut defense.   Newt gets a chance here to reprise his attack on the “super committee”, but this time by laying out a basis for making foreign policy decisions.  Good job Newt, even if we’ve heard the “amputation” metaphor before.

Here’s the obligatory “foreign aid” question – people continually overestimate how much this country spends on foreign aid.  It’s a pittance, but it’s always the first place people go to when looking to cut “waste” from government.  This is another red meat question. 

Interesting differences arise on the foreign aid question.  Bachmann is on her game tonight when it comes to foreign policy issues.

Does anyone in the audience remember the Iran-contra affair?   I’m not sure this example resonates with very many of them.   


Santorum’s response on the electability question is pretty darn good.  Not that it changes his chances much.

Pretty heated exchange here between Perry and Romney, but I’m surprised Perry doesn’t go after the flip-flopper issue a bit more.

Newt gets a chance to finish up by bashing the media and offering to reprise the Lincoln-Douglas debate.   Which is a fitting way to end this debate!

 Ok, let the spin begin.

I was surprised by how personal some of the exchanges were, but substantively, there wasn’t alot of new ground broken here.  Perry was more energized, but his energy struck me as sometimes used to push petty issues, or issues that have been vetted previously (the illegal workers issue has been covered pretty well in the last election cycle).  I thought Cain got through relatively unscathed considering that it started out as “gang up on the Herminator night”.  But he seemed a bit shaky on the foreign policy issues and his comments earlier today suggesting he would negotiate with Al Quaeda if they held Americans came back to bite him a bit.  He had to backtarck on that.  I’m still dubious that he has staying power, but he did nothing to hurt himself tonight.  Whether he can turn this early support into a stronger infrastructure in key states remains an open question.

Since the next debate won’t be for a month or so, it will be interesting to see whether any of the second-tier candidates will be reassessing their candidacies.  Note that Huntsman didn’t bother showing up. 

That’s it from here.  I’ll try to get a follow up post tomorrow..


  1. Do you think Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan ultimately will be detrimental to him in winning the Republican nomination? It seems that almost all the other candidates were attacking him on this issue and that Romney didn’t have a great defense. Was Romney’s claim that he never suggested the Mass. health care plan be used nationally true?

  2. Professor Dickinson,

    Does it make sense for Perry to be so combative with Romney at this point in the campaign? It seemed like Perry came prepared with a few particular attacks against him on Romneycare and hiring illegal immigrants. Obviously Perry is an inferior debater and was bested in almost every exchange with Romney. I feel like it would be smarter to champion the conservative cause and act presidential while avoiding combat, at least until the field narrows and Perry’s fundraising advantage bumps up his polling numbers. Romney will feel the heat as the frontrunner whether its coming from Perry or not. Tonight, Perry seemed just as desperate as Santorum and that’s not a positive comparison for the Perry campaign. What do you think?

    Also, I wanted to ask your opinion about debate strategy. Tonight I feel like a lot of the candidates didn’t even come close to answering the questions they were asked, which really frustrates me. Is that simply my bias as a college student who is programmed to always follow the prompt of a professor’s question, or do you believe that average primary voters feel the same way?


  3. Owen – Great Questions. I agree with your critique of Perry’s strategy. It just didn’t come across as “presidential”, for want of a better word. As for debating strategy, it’s pretty common for debaters to try to respond to the question they wished was asked, rather than the one actually asked.

  4. Adam,

    I think that is the consensus view of Obama supporters tonight. Alas, they don’t get to vote in the Republican race. But I do wonder whether the independents who will be key in this general election race were turned off by the bickering among the Republicans, and whether the potential negative reaction outweighs concerns about the economy. I suspect, in the long run, that it won’t matter so much and that when the Republicans finally fall in line behind their nominee, this is going to be a very very difficult race for Obama.

  5. Matt,
    Are you testing to see if we read your blogging.
    You mention Huntsman a couple of times and I didn’t think he was there.
    Then you ended by saying “Huntsman didn’t bother showing up.”

  6. Hi Dale,

    I think I also said there were eight candidates on the stage. There were only seven. Old habits die hard. Huntsman, of course, wasn’t there, and I’m sorry if I indicated otherwise in my early comments (I didn’t think I did!).

    Glad someone was paying attention…..

  7. I wonder just how difficult this race will be for Obama? He has a very strong reservoir of accomplishments that he will begin to hammer home. Republicans have nothing and it doesn’t seem as if this election climate can be compared to another historically.

  8. Wenke,

    Don’t deceive yourself. This will be a very difficult race for Obama, no matter who the Republicans nominate from among the current eight candidates. While it is true that his administration has a significant record of accomplishments, he will be held, fairly or not, accountable for the lackluster economy, and even some of his signature accomplishments, such as health care, are not universally popular. It is ironic that perhaps his strong suit is foreign policy, where he has largely built on the precedents established by Bush. This is not to say he can’t win. But he is in for the fight of his life.

  9. Professor,

    I guess we’ll see if the Obama doomsayers are right, it will be interesting in any case.


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