Live Blogging the South Carolina Republican Debate

Opening question to Cain, and I have to say his answer on how to handle a nuclear Iran seems a bit less surefooted than what Newt and Mitt followed with…of course, both Mitt and Newt opened by taking shots at Obama.

By the way, this is a potentially crucial debate for several reasons. First, it gives Perry a chance to prove he can remember his talking points.  Second, it promises to test Cain’s knowledge base.  Third, it provides perhaps a final opportunity for the second tier candidates to gain some traction in a new issue area.

Santorum is in good form: angry at the outset.  Everyone wants a crack at the Iran with nukes question. Rick is staking out by the most hawkish position, practically pledging to back an Israeli preemptive strike.

Bachmann’s critique of Afghan surge and withdrawal is nicely done – too bad Pelley is moderating with an exceedingly tight clock.  It’s hard to give detailed answers under the 1-minute deadline.

There’s some clear distinctions between drawn here between the candidates, which is a welcome change from their “debates” on econ policy.   Paul and Huntsman are adopting the more dovish approach to Afghanistan by advocating bringing the troops home.  No mention of Pakistan as yet.

Never mind. Leave it to Newt to broach the crucial topic.  Let’s see how Cain handles the Pakistan issue.

Perry takes up the foreign aid cudgel.  He promises to use it leverage with our potential allies. This is a crowd pleaser, but it is substantively useless. Foreign aid is a minuscule part of our budget. This is one of the talking points he came with and, in typical Perry fashion, he inserted it at the first possible moment, rather than answer the question.

As befitting someone on the intelligence committee, Bachmann knows her foreign policy sh-t.

Gingrich jumps on the foreign aid bandwagon.  He knows better.

Ah, the missing nuclear weapon question!  Go Rick!  (I’d bring in James Bond to find it, or maybe Jack Bauer!)  Instead, Rick wants to answer the previous question, and he actually gives one of the more nuanced responses regarding how to deal with Pakistan, noting at the outset that it is a nuclear power, so we can’t simply zero out the foreign aid.  The crowd says nothing, but Rick is right – the answer is more difficult than simply ending assistance.

Since we are on commercial broadcast station, there will be plenty of commercial breaks.  Which reminds me: the last half hour of the debate is not going to be televised, so that we can see something more important, like Mike and Molly.  Sigh.

Part II.

Opening question to Newt designed to get him to follow up on critical comments he made yesterday regarding Mitt Romney as competent but not an innovator. Newt doesn’t take the bait, much to the crowd’s pleasure.  Reagan’s 11th commandment holds strong with Newt. Major Garrett is not happy.

Cain – how does he know when to overrule his generals? Bad question – bad answer – too general on both counts to really shed any light on their role as commander in chief.  Pelley needs to give a specific case.

(Is Huntsman still on the stage?)

Santorum is hopeful the U.S. has been using covert action to stymie Iran’s nuclear program.  He’s not shy.

Ah Perry – eliminating the Department of Energy.  Nicely done!!  Big round of applause for his ability to laugh at his gaffe. Interesting twist here by Perry – equating his governorship as a form of commander in chief experience.  To this point, he’s holding his own.

Let’s see how the email questions go…these are almost always potential landmines…

First question to Cain – what is his approach to torture?  Is it ever admissible?  Waterboarding?  Cain will waterboard.   Bachmann will too.  We don’t want the ACLU running our military.  How about Paul?  Waterboarding is torture.  It is illegal, immoral and not effective.  Bachmann is not going to take this – but Pelley cuts her off to acknowledge that Huntsman is running for president and might want to talk.  He does.  (From Siberia).  He joins Paul in rejecting waterboarding as unAmerican.  We haven’t heard the end of this – Bachmann will surely come back to it.

It’s interesting, but perhaps not surprising, that the Republicans seem united in criticizing Obama for his foreign policy, when that’s arguably the strongest part of his record to date, and is largely an extension of a Republican president’s policies.

Perry gets the first China question. let’s see if he actually answers it or instead injects a pre-baked talking point.  He does both – not terribly detailed, but clear enough.

Let’s see if Newt says “Ask Huntsman – he’s a China expert!”

Did you ever notice how Romney is big at arguing everyone should play by the rules?  I bet he was pain in the arse on the playground.

Here’s Huntsman – let’s hope he says it takes more than hard work to deal with China.  Get specific Jon.  He’s banking on the internet to break the party hold on China, but Pelley cuts him off for a commercial before Huntsman gets a chance to develop his point.  I want to see Huntsman be a bit more like Santorum – throw a fit, Jon!  Get mad as hell, and don’t take this anymore!

So far, I’d say Cain – although he hasn’t screwed the pooch – still seems a bit unsteady in his answers.  He relies a bit too much on the idea that he’d consult his generals on everything.

Great email question to Perry – will he zero out aid to Israel.  A potentially tricky answer, but to his credit Rick comes through with a nice response, and manages to bring in another self-deprecating reference to his debate gaffe. Perry’s having a strong debate so far.

And that’s it for the live television broadcast!  We have to switch over to the computer to get the feed.

What weapon system would Bachmann cut?  (She’s also having a good debate, btw). She never answers – choosing  instead to focus on military care.

Cain on the Arab Spring:  again, he starts slowly, as if gathering his mental talking points.  It doesn’t give one a sense of confidence.

Let’s see if Gingrich can do better with a question about Syria.  He ought to go to town on this.

Meanwhile, Paul wouldn’t intervene in Syria at all, and his shocktroops are jubilant.

Here’s an interesting twist – both South Carolinian Senators – Lindsey Graham and Jim Demint – get an opportunity to ask questions.  Graham launches a question regarding killing terrorists who are U.S. citizens and trying them in civil courts. Cain and Santorum give the expected answers – as does Paul.  You have to admire Paul’s principled consistency, but after a while you understand why he can’t get more than 10% support in any poll.

Perry, touting his military service, gives maybe his best answer of the night.  Bachmann takes on Paul, and he doesn’t back down.

Now it’s DeMint’s turn. And he asks the question I raised in my post earlier today: what programs – not departments – would you cut to reduce spending, or would return to the states?

Note that Romney doesn’t give a money value to the programs he is proposing to cut.  The ones he cites as needing to be cut don’t add up collectively to more than a drop in the budget bucket.

I’m waiting for someone to mention entitlements.  Gingrich, meanwhile, uses the question as an opportunity to attack the Supercommittee again.  Don’t forget that South Carolina is a key state for Newt’s campaign – hence his shout out to rehabbing the Charleston harbor.

Hmmm- Bachmann touts China as the model for the U.S.?  No foodstamps, no social welfare state there!  (no freedoms either, but….)   Let’s cut the Great Society- all of it!

The reason Herman Cain is so slow to answer is that he has to consult with his commanders on the ground before he can fashion a response.  Let’s face it – he’s not helping himself tonight.  Pelley is skeptical, and rightly so, that Cain even has formulated a response to clearing out safehavens in Pakistan.  I fear this may be the end of the Cain bubble.

Why is it that Romney seems to start every answer by laying out the context of the question?

Once again, the loose nuke question, this time to Santorum.  Not sure this is a useful hypothetical, but Santorum is so much more knowledgeable than Cain in explaining why this is a dangerous event, and he avoids the jingoistic simplistic response.

Gingrich brings it back to the Church Committee – does his audience even know what that is?

Huntsman is ready for this one, already dialing Seal Force six before Pelley even finishes asking the question.  You go Jon!

Perry on ending the Euro-crisis – and Pelley ends the debate. Just like that.  Very unsatisfying format tonight – not nearly as well done as the previous one on the economy, mostly because Pelley didn’t let the candidates engage.

Still, I think there were a couple of obvious takeaways.  First, reports of Perry’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  He came out, used humor to minimize the debate gaffe, and then proceeded to give some strong, if somewhat superficial answers to questions dealing with a range of issues.  The biggest loser, I thought, was Cain, who just seemed a bit out of his depth. He relied too often on the “I’ll ask my generals first.” He didn’t make any mistakes, but he did nothing to convince voters he was a guy who could be relied upon in a national security crisis.

Gingrich was solid, as always, and once again impressed with his detailed policy knowledge (sometime too detailed), and also once again playing senior statesman, refusing to take the bait to attack Romney when both were on stage.  I think voters like this.  Romney also did well, as he always does, in giving the “correct” answers, but once again he often seemed to respond with answers that seemed poll-tested, rather than rooted in any deep convictions.  Bachmann also was strong – until that last answer in which she suggested we ought to jettison the Great Society and instead adopt China’s approach to helping the poor.  Where did that come from?

Santorum and Huntsman have to decide how long they want to keep up this charade.  Barring a minor miracle, they are going to get winnowed in Iowa, unless Huntsman decides to hang on for New Hampshire. They were both good tonight,particular Santorum in how to deal with Pakistan, but does it matter?  At this point, it is still a very fluid race.  I guess the one thing to look for in the next several days is whether Perry has righted the ship, and whether Cain continues to slip in the polls.  If so, we may head into December with a top three of  Gingrich, Romney and Perry.  Keep in mind that Gingrich, by virtue of moving into the top tier, is now fair game for media attacks.  I expect they will now train their guns on him – let’s see how his record holds up to the scrutiny.

More tomorrow…. .








  1. Not to be conspiratorial but its dubious to me that performance in debates are really important in selecting candidates. The question is what here is important and how are candidates selected. While of course there are primaries, who the public sees for candidates and what they say seem unimportant in predicting future actions.

    For example poll after poll says tax the rich and the occupy sites are all taking about a small tax on financial transactions to make speculation less profitable yet no candidate states this clearly needs to be done. If the system is undemocratic fine, how is to be fixed, if it is democratic present evidence that such is the case. While this is the job of politicians, one would think people sophisticated in political science would have something to offer.

  2. Michael,

    You make two different assertions here. The first is that performance in debates in not really important in selecting candidates. If you are talking about the general election, you are correct – there’s not much evidence that debate performance influences voters’ choices very much, In the “invisible primary”, however – the period before actual voting takes place in primaries and caucuses, the evidence is that debates matter very much in determining candidate rankings and perceptions of viability. Consider Herman Cain’s rise in the polls – how would that have happened without the debates.

    Your second point is whether which candidate we choose matters, since none – if I am reading you correctly – address issues of real concern to voters. You may be correct, but a complete answer would require more than a comment. However, this is a different point than saying that debates don’t influence candidate selection – in the nominating process, they do, if for no other reason than to winnow out candidates (see Tim Pawlenty).

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