Live Blogging the Arizona Debate

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As always, it’s fun to see who actually sings the national anthem. Newt never does.  Mitt always does.

And they are true to form tonight – Mitt letting loose, while Newt is stonefaced.

John King – the fastest speaking moderator in the business.

Rick is smiling as he speaks of positive solutions to the Apocalypse as spelled out in the book of Revelations.

Right off the bat, as I predicted, Newt works the energy angle.

Question 1:  how to bring down the growing national debt?

Rick looks like he’s clenching his teeth again.  Not a good sign.  But he hits the major points.

John King invites Mitt to attack Rick….if you ask, I suppose I’ll oblige….

Mitt – I’m a businessman, not a political hack like Rick.

Rick is obviously going to be prepared to respond to Mitt’s attacks.  Mitt is a tax raiser….Rick is not.  Period.

Mitt is in top destroy mode. He is out to crush Rick.  Clearly he has been watching the polls.

Newt – offshore drilling.  Energy, energy, energy…

Ron Paul – love this guy.  Why did you call Rick Santorum a fake?  “Because he’s a fake!”  Even Rick has to laugh at Ron, which may be a sign of just how far Ron’s stock has fallen.  No one is taking him seriously, even when he attacks you…  Rick is still smiling, even as Ron eviscerates him…..

I confess that I’m not entirely sure why Paul has decided to target Rick, unless he’s hoping to be the not-Mitt candidate.

Paul’s medication has kicked in tonight.  He’s well rested and it shows. Feisty, and quick on the response.

Mitt doesn’t wait long to raise the immigration issue.  But why someone doesn’t point out he had to balance the budget by state law in Massachusetts is beyond me. He keeps claiming credit for it.

Newt still hasn’t attacked the media. Is this his opportunity?

Whenever Newt says, “There’s a different question”, he’s ready to pounce.  He plays his immigration card in the guise of talking about the failing of the national government.  Immigration plays well here, and Newt uses it effectively….

Rick – Mitt is an earmarker, and a hypocrite to boot for attacking Rick for earmarks.  Mitt is ready to reel off Rick’s earmark record, you wait.  Rick is trying to inoculate himself against the coming earmark attack.  the crowd doesn’t buy Rick’s extended defense of earmarks, and neither does Mitt.  Hard to make a case that is based on everyone in Congress does it.

Mitt my earmark was for the Olympics. Yours was for the bridge for nowhere.  Now Rick is mad.   And Mitt is getting prissy again.  Newt is winning by doing nothing….

Newt is going to step in to clean up this mess.   There are good earmarks and bad earmarks, and Newt makes it all clear.  Ron joins in.  Not clear that this food fight over earmarks is really helping anyone.  Let’s move on, please.

The auto bailout.  Defend your position.  Presumably this matters to Michigan voters.  (Notice how Mitt responds to jeers from the crowd – it’s what we call “rabbit ears”…    (Newt seems pretty relaxed here).  Mitt says he was a traditional bankruptcy for the auto industry.  I’m not sure people are following this, but I think Mitt’s answer is effective.  Rick does not.

John King: “It’s a tough issue.”  Newt:  No, it’s not. Newt attaboys Mitt, but still gets applause.

Ron Paul wants consistency on bailouts.   He uses the bailout to defend the sanctity of contracts, and liberty too.  Yadayadayada.

First Break

Rick spent too much time defending his record here and got sucked into an earmark foodfight, that as a member of Congress, he can’t win.  Romney was personally irritating, as always, but again he’s done his homework  and came prepared to demolish Rick, just as he did to Newt before Florida.   Ron is amusing, but irrelevant for the most part.  Newt is doing well, but he’s also back in the scenery a bit here….

Social Issue could get things going.  Newt is ready to attack the elite media…..and here it comes!  Newt sets the tone here which is to turn the issue away from Republican views and toward Obama’s views toward “infanticide” and religious exemptions.

You saw this coming – Santorum on the spot for his social views.  He’s not going to back down on this.  I’m never sure how his evident passion on this issue plays – is he too strident for some voters?

Rick likes Ron’s “pills are guns” analogy…

Mitt has really been trying to burnish his social conservative credentials tonight – I’m surprised the others are letting him get away with this.  Let’s see if Rick takes on his record as governor….

Newt takes up the cudgel here.  Remember, Newt’s audience here is southern evangelicals and Tea Party populists…

Great comment from RStrange – it’s hard to believe women are enjoying watching the Republican candidates bashing contraceptive use.  Remember, Rick and Newt have both had gender discrepancies in their polling…

Paul and Mitt are ganging up on Rick, and once again he is trying to parse answers.  The crowd turns….but this has been a pro-Mitt crowd from the get go. (Did he purchase their admission?)  They are even booing Rick attacking Romneycare…… the crowd is fixed!

Mitt is skating here, and Rick can’t do much about it….Again, it helps to have a great research team behind you.  The best debate coaching money can buy…

Finally, someone call Mitt on the phony balanced budget claim.  Rick is on fire…..note that Mitt skillfully blunts the attack by moving Rick to the Spector issue.  too convoluted an explanation by Rick here I think….. neither one of them is really doing themselves any good in this exchange.

Let’s move on to immigration….    (Rick Perry is holding Callista’s hand – turnabout is fair play)

Is Newt still on the stage?  yes he is, with another so simple it must make sense response for curing the border problem.  The Good Newt is back.

Not sure anyone gets very excited by “e-verify” – lots of people just don’t think it works as well as guns and fences.

It’s easy pickings here to back the Arizona law a few days before the Arizona primary.

Newt is finally picking up some steam here….again, he needs to impact voters on Super Tuesday….start with baby debate steps….so he is more likely to soft pedal the immigration issue in order to pick up some Latino vote.

Break II.

Easy one word answer to “define yourself:”  How about: “Presidential”

Santorum fought back a bit here to regain some ground.  But although he scored points against Mitt, it’s not clear to me he’s helped himself so far.  Mitt took some shots, but he’s still ahead on points.  Newt has been the best debater (shades of old Newt) but he hasn’t gotten much air time.  Paul has had some great one liners, and scored heavily against Rick early, but….. .

Courage?  Does Rick mean courageous?  And Newt as cheerful?   I still say presidential was the word of choice.

Did Mitt just mention “emotional” in the context of debating women in the military?  Can he be any more condescending?  How are women going to react to that?

If this Newt had showed up before Florida we might have seen a different outcome.  Of course, no one is attacking him tonight.

Rick already has a gender problem, so he needs to be careful in his response here on military service for women.

Newt is primed for the Iran nuclear issue (he’s got Adelson’s money at stake here!)   He’s not going to say “I’ll stop Israel” taking out Iran’s nukes.

King cuts this off too quickly – I wanted to hear Paul attack Newt on this.

Mitt ends every statement with some version of “If you elect me, that won’t happen, if you reelect the President it will…”

AS you see Rick work himself up on this issue, do you really want him with his finger on the nuclear button?

Here’s where Ron Paul reminds everyone why he can’t win the Republican nomination.  He doesn’t quite grasp the logic of nuclear deterrence.

“We talked to the Soviets” for 50 years, while the Iron Curtain stood in place…..

Did Rick say how he would actually solve the Syria problem?  If so, I missed it.

Newt harping on energy once again. This is a major part of his plan to resurrect his campaign.   He makes overthrowing Syria seem so simple.  Rick agrees. If only it was… .

Paul tries again, this time pushing the economic costs of overseas intervention.   My guess it won’t play any better than the moral and constitutional issues did with Republican voters.

Rick’s candid admission that he made a mistake backing NCLB for the sake of the team actually seems to have attracted some applause.

Newt is on his game tonight.  But again, it’s easier to do when everyone has counted you out.  And he only has one debate, not a dozen, to debate his way back into this race.   But he’s on a roll here with his riff on education…..

Newt has replaced Bachmann as the designated laugher in reaction to Ron’s one-liner’s …  Ron isn’t letting Rick off the hook here.  Still not sure why he’s serving as Mitt’s handmaiden.  Is this an effort to get Mitt to put Rand Paul on the ticket?


Last debate section went to Newt.  Mitt has receded a bit, but it doesn’t matter because Rick didn’t really step up to fill the void.  The pro-Mitt audience here is a reminder of why organization matters.

Last Question:  What’s the biggest misconception the public has about you?

Paul: That I can’t win.  Sadly, that’s not a misconception.  He can’t win.  Outside of a brokered convention.

Gingrich:  If there was one thing that I want the American people to know about me is what I accomplished while speaker….track record of getting things done.

Mitt:  As always, he’s not answering the question.  This guy is fundamentally unlikable, when you get right down to it.  Once in a while you see flashes of the guy who grew up expecting people to do what he wants.   Not a pretty sight.

Rick:  not really answering the question, but I guess he’s saying he’s more electable than people think.

And that’s it.  Time for the Spin!

Borger is up first with Rick and the Rickettes! Is Rick, Jr. wearing a sweater vest?  Oh yeah!

I wonder how kids feel when they are essentially props in a campaign?  Look at those smiling faces – painted on!

Now to Paul – he says he’s in second place in delegates.  Formally speaking, counting conservatively, I still don’t think that’s true.  I think Newt is ahead of him.  But, no matter.  Remember, for a guy making an argument that he’s most electable, the fact is he hasn’t won anything yet – not even Maine.

My quick impressions:  given the hype, no one really stood out as having an effective performance.  Of the four, Gingrich was the strongest performer, bringing back shades of the old Newt.   The problem is it is not clear that one debate is enough to change the media narrative here which is writing him off.  Perhaps it played better in some of the Super Tuesday events and will give him a boost over Santorum there.  If so, that’s what he hoped for.   The big loser in my mind was Santorum.  He stumbled early by getting dragged into the details of a debate over Arlen Spector and earmarks.  He sounded defensive.  He picked it up considerably in the second half, and turned the tables a bit on Mitt with the critique of balanced budgets and Romneycare, but he didn’t clearly differentiate himself from Mitt. nor perform so well as to give voters in Michigan and Arizona a reason to choose him over Mitt.  That’s what he needed to do, and I just don’t think he capitalized on his moment in the sun.

Mitt was Mitt – well prepared, but in a way that demonstrated that his strengths are his weaknesses.  He has money, a strong opposition research team, the organization to pack the hall – but he’s not very likeable.  Again, he showed flashes of the “I’m rich and therefore you have to play by my rules” Mitt that is hard to like.  I think he did enough damage to Rick here to perhaps squeeze out wins in both Michigan and Arizona, but once again I saw no evidence that he can expand his support into the Tea Party/evangelical crowd.  There’s just no connection there.

Finally, Ron Paul: Good night for him, but he’s running in the wrong nominating race when it comes to foreign policy.  This isn’t to say he’s wrong – only that his isolationist views (I know, it’s “non-interventionist”) just aren’t going to fly with this voting crowd.  Otherwise, he was entertaining, he was pithy, he hit the usual talking points but with high energy.  All in all a good performance for him.

(David Gergen was just on CNN arguing the contraceptive issues and other reproductive concerns drive the gender gap in presidential voting in recent decades.  This is completely wrong – the gender gap is rooted in different views toward security and social welfare – not so-called “women’s” issues.   Shame on David.)

Good job tonight – thanks for the great participation! I’ll be on tomorrow with the post-mortem…..meanwhile, everyone pour a scotch, kick back and relax….



  1. Seems like Newt just made Santorum’s point for him, but like 100 times more clearly. Rick’s bumbling left him wide open to get pummeled by Romney. Not a good debate for him so far.

  2. Santorum’s facial expressions are always priceless. He’s terrible at hiding his anger and/or anger and confusion when the other candidates are talking.

  3. It’s a good one in the sense that they are challenging one another. Not great for Rick, I agree, Mitt is his consistent self, Newt is his confident debate-self, but he is whack on $2.50/gal gas. Now on to birth control…

  4. Ron Paul has by far the best one-liners of the field. I would love to see a YouTube montage of Paul quotes.

  5. How are women responding to this cluck-clucking over reproduction/morality…aren’t these guys kind of pointing a finger?

  6. @Rstrange – great point. Santorum has a real women’s problem already, as does Newt. This can’t be helping even among Republican leaning women.

  7. Doesn’t the Mormon experience suggest that Obama is rather far from the least religiously tolerant president in US history? Shouldn’t Mitt know that?

  8. I think Santorum and Romney are making a case for contraception in yammering on about teens raising babies. Sheesh

  9. This is the best attack on Romneycare of the entire campaign so far. With his back against the wall, Santorum went after Romney’s biggest weakness and did a great job. Point Rick.

  10. At least the part dealing with budgets and Romney care – but then he got distracted again. Romney knows how to disrupt a narrative….

  11. No, Matt, I wouldn’t want Rick’s finger on the nuclear button…or managing US policy on the Arab Spring. Imagine that!

  12. Did I hear right that “Syria is a puppet state of Iran” that is whack as $2.50 gas.

    To think I just voted for this guy in Tenn early voting (really).

  13. These attacks on Obama as “weak” on foreign policy are both extremely dishonest and generally bizarre. Is bin Laden still alive? Is al Awlaki still alive? There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Obama, but his track record of killing America’s enemies is pretty clear.

  14. Zach – You aren’t going to convince very many Republicans of this – and that’s who is watching this debate.

  15. @Rstrange – and thanks to you, and to everyone else who have joined in tonight and for all the previous debates. It’s been great fun!

  16. This has been a terribly disappointing two hours. It began with introductions worthy of a boxing match and John King is the referee. Now to your corners, gentlemen. Clinch, on to the next question. Ding! End of the round. And the crowd wants blood. Awful.

  17. Matthew
    Everytime I hear Romney talk about his management experience, I wonder if he ever read Presidential Power. The differences between corporate management of people you can fire and the political skills needed to enact legislation are immense.
    I am still amazed the in 2008, neither candidate had experience as a government executive. Since it looks like we are going that way again, I would prefer someone who has gotten something passed in Congress.

  18. Dale – Couldn’t agree more. Managing a company is NOT the same as making a deal in government. It just isn’t.

  19. @marty lapidus,

    I don’t disagree – not a hugely impressive performance by any of the four candidates. it didn’t really live up to the hype.

  20. Professor Dickinson,

    I have been reading your blog since the GOP debates started, and I wanted to tell you that I have really been enjoying your thoughts/comments!

    -Christine Chung
    Class of 2010

  21. Glad to hear it. If you’d like to be placed on the automatic notification list I can add your email address (no one else will see it).

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