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Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 in Politics | 2 comments

Live Blogging of CNN’s Republican Presidential Debate in Arizona (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Was this debate game changer? In my comments after the debate I said that it wasn’t. But in reading tons of news and pundit reaction, and watching the morning cable shows, it’s clear: former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum didn’t have the kind of night he needed to keep his momentum going. In the end, he came across as another creature of Washington will to be a team player (a no no to many Republican voters these days) and cast votes against his own principles Santorum on the defense, as I noted, looked tentative, shaky and stumbling. And he was double teamed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, which Paul being at times more brutally critical than Romney.

The Washington Post has this list of winners and losers. It’s long but here are just a few of them:

* Ron Paul: Who knew the Texas congressman was such an attack dog? While we’ve seen flashes of it in previous debates, he really went after Rick Santorum on Wednesday and got himself plenty of camera time in the process.

The takeaway if you were seeing Paul for the first time: ‘I’m not a politician like these guys. I’m principled.’ He used Santorum as a counter-balance in that effort, and it worked.

* Mitt Romney: It wasn’t his strongest performance, but he did what he had to do for the here-and-now — knock Santorum down a few pegs.

Romney’s performance isn’t likely to re-inspire confidence in his frontrunner status, which is probably more his long-term concern. But he bought himself time to work on that, at the very least, by stunting Santorum’s momentum….


* Rick Santorum: For a guy who finally gained frontrunner status after a long haul, he didn’t handle it very well on the debate stage. As we noted Wednesday night, many of his counterpunches were difficult to follow and went way too far into the weeds.

“I didn’t follow all of that,” Romney said after Santorum spent a while explaining the earmarking process.

Neither did the audience and most voters, which was Santorum’s problem.

* Arlen Specter: This guy didn’t exactly have a great end to his political career, and now his name is again being dragged through the mud in a GOP presidential primary.

It continues to surprise The Fix how much vitriol there is for Santorum’s eight-year-old endorsement of Specter in the 2004 Senate race. But it’s a real thing in conservative circles, and Romney was smart to broach it.

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe Romney surrogate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said there was “no knockout” but that Rick Santorum had an awful night.

Here’s the rest of the roundup with the live blogging after the roundup and my conclusions (which do often change after I see a debate and think about it and watch more videos.)

MY INITIAL REACTION: I don’t see this as a game changer. But here’s my reaction:
MITT ROMNEY: He won the night. Had a good night, well prepared but for some of the debate seemed too rehearsed. I predict he will have hurt himself on absolutely not answering the question the end about misconceptions about himself. He could have used that to argue that he was a conservative. Or that his flip flops were true evolutions of political thought. But he totally blew it and if that piece of tape is run on profiles of Romney it’ll hurt him. Romney apparently packed the room with supporters. Helped him with primary voters but not in general election. He will keep losing indes.
RICK SANTORUM: Is at times impressive but when he’s on the defensive he almost seems tentative. He had a somewhat hostile audience — they loved Romney and Ron Paul — so the setting was misleading. In his favor: the Rick Santorum who appeared tonight didn’t fit the image that is coming across with his controversial statements. The sound bites make him seem to the right of Rush Limbaugh. In debate he is engaging, but weak when he has to defend himself.
NEWT GINGRICH: A good night for him. Like clockwork he went after the media but it was more half heartedly. He was smart in not prolonging it because it would be like a comedian telling the same joke to the same room. He might get a response but not as much and he’d open himself up for ridicule.
RON PAUL: Ron Paul was Ron Paul. He is a politician who doesn’t fit into either party He is often the voice of truth and nonspin. But he believes in his foreign policy views, which makes him so attractive to young people and is a turnoff to the typical Republican primary voter.

Also: the big feature was Romney and Paul double-teaming Santorum.

Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t see this as a big game changer. So:
–Romney is where he was but if that last answer is played along with other sound bytes it will add to the image of a candidate who is more of a kind of corporate creation than an organic political happening.
–Santorum still is a challenger. But he did NOTHING to advance his game.
–Gingrich did not re-ignite his campaign.
–Paul pleases his followers and sets the stage for his son running for President one day — with perhaps more of a talent ot appeal to GOPers. Don’t take your eye of the Pauls.

Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s final reaction:

9.55 pm. Romney simply refuses to answer an interesting question about the biggest misconception about him. Major fail. Santorum played his best card – that he’s the underdog who can do a lot with a little. Gingrich cited his ability to manage Washington. Paul tried to dispel the notion that he cannot do well against Barack Obama.

Maybe I’ve lost my mind after all these debates, or maybe I secretly want him to win (because he would finally expose all the insanity that has been building in this party and needs venting). But I thought Santorum was on form tonight. My sense is that he will not lose his current momentum after tonight. I didn’t feel Newt tonight. Romney doesn’t wear well. Paul was great and funny and human.

But there was a winner, it seems to me. He’s in the White House.

HIGHLIGHT: Ron Paul calls Santorum a fake conservative:

HIGHLIGHT: Santorum tells Romney he doesn’t know what he’s talking about on earmarks charge:

FOOTNOTE: After the uproar about Santorum’s comment, the highly anticipated question about Satan did not appear. Satan was missing (in name, although some might argue not in spirit…)

NOTE: Here’s a roundup of other reactions. The live blogging and chunks of live blogging quoted from other sites will be underneath the new roundup or newer reactions.


Rivals heaped criticism on surprise front-runner Rick Santorum in a debate among Republican presidential candidates on Wednesday, hoping to stall his surge at a pivotal period in the 2012 campaign.

Mitt Romney, scrambling to fight back against a grave threat from Santorum, went after his chief rival early and often.

He tried to raise enough doubts about Santorum to make up for a deficit in the polls, with Michigan and Arizona to vote on February 28 and set the table for the crucial March 6 “Super Tuesday.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Romney repeatedly questioned Santorum’s fiscal and social conservative credentials and criticized his time in the U.S. Congress when he was a backer of government spending projects deemed wasteful by critics.

“Don’t look at me, take a look in the mirror,” Romney told him at one tense juncture when Santorum accused Romney of backing moderate policies in Massachusetts.

New York Times lede:

Mitt Romney called into question the fiscal conservative credentials of Rick Santorum in a fiercely combative debate on Wednesday evening, taking urgent steps to redefine Mr. Santorum while trying to reassert his command in the fight for the Republican presidential nomination.

With the Arizona and Michigan primaries only six days away, followed quickly by a dozen more contests, Mr. Romney arrived here at the 20th debate of the race armed with a detailed indictment of Mr. Santorum’s record in Congress. Mr. Romney sought to dismantle the conservative veneer that has elevated his rival in recent weeks.

“While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’ ” Mr. Romney said, drawing upon a noted symbol of government excess to make his point about Mr. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator.

But Mr. Santorum, unlike other Republican opponents whom Mr. Romney has targeted during this unwieldy primary battle, did not recoil. He returned the attacks as forcefully as they were delivered, arguing that the health care plan Mr. Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts would complicate the party’s effort to criticize President Obama’s health care plan. He also dismissed Mr. Romney’s argument that he balanced the Massachusetts budget.

“Don’t go around bragging about something you have to do,” Mr. Santorum said. “Michael Dukakis balanced the budget for 10 years. Does that make him qualified to be president of the United States? I don’t think so.”

Talking Point Memo gives five reasons why it was a bad night for Rick Santorum. Some match my own reactions. Here’s an edited list (to the original to read the details):

If we’ve learned one thing through this turbulent Republican primary, it’s that the debates really matter. Newt Gingrich rose and fell on his debate performances, Rick Perry knocked himself out entirely on the debate stage and Mitt Romney crawled back into frontrunner status in part by hiring a new debate coach and stepping up his game.

On Wednesday in Arizona, Rick Santorum needed to bring his A game to the debate to keep his momentum into the big Feb. 28 primaries in that state and Michigan. He didn’t do it. Instead, he left a trail of moments that will likely haunt him in the press, in his rivals’ speeches and in attack ads.

Here are five standouts that illustrate just how bad a night Santorum had:
• Wilted Under Attack On Earmarks……..
• Let’s Talk About Arlen Specter…..
• Pulled A John Kerry…
• Tried To Blame President Bush For His Mistakes…
• Dragged The GOP Down With Him…
• Bonus: Didn’t Stack The Deck…

–Some of the many Tweets by the brilliant Andy Borowitz:

#cnndebate WINNERS AND LOSERS Winner: Barack Obama. Loser: Anyone who watched.

41m Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Santorum: “The biggest misconception about me is that I’m straight.” #cnndebate

42m Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Romney: “The biggest misconception about me is that I don’t like poor people. I don’t know any poor people.” #cnndebate

“Final Republican debate” is almost as sweet a phrase as “Final Twilight movie.” #cnndebate
49m Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport Reply Retweet Favorite · Open

Gingrich: “Teaching is a missionary vocation, and we need to attract more women to a missionary position.” #cnndebate
53m Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport Reply Retweet Favorite · Open

Gingrich: “We should leave no child behind, only wives.” #cnndebate
58m Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport Reply Retweet Favorite · Open

The audience is growing noticeably angry at Ron Paul making sense. #cnndebate
1h Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport Reply Retweet Favorite · Open

Romney: “I would round up all illegal aliens and force them to save the Olympics.” #cnndebate
1h Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport Reply Retweet Favorite · Open

I don’t want to hear about abstinence from a group of men who have between them nine thousand children. #cnndebate
1h Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport Reply Retweet Favorite · Open

Romney: “I have a 2-point economic plan. One: make everyone poor. Two: don’t worry about them.” #cnndebate
2h Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport Reply Retweet Favorite · Open

#CnnDebate First Question: “Could we solve the immigration problem by posting a picture of Jan Brewer at the border?”

The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz makes a good point: Santorum had a victory of sorts. On a day when his name was in the news due to his controversial statements about social issues and Satan, he survived:

Rick Santorum dodged a political bullet on the birth control controversy at the CNN debate Wednesday night, deflecting criticism from Mitt Romney and batting down the notion that he would discourage contraception.
On a divisive subject that could have complicated his candidacy, Santorum turned the issue back on Romney and battled him to a draw.

If Santorum entered the Arizona debate as the GOP front-runner, he did nothing to diminish that status. Romney, for his part, also turned in a strong performance. In fact, their frequent exchanges often descended into hard-to-follow squabbling rather than slashing attacks.

The only clear loser was Newt Gingrich, who scored a few points but was largely overshadowed, in sharp contrast to the South Carolina and Florida debates when he loomed so large.

In the end, the debate did little to shake up the race, perhaps because the candidates—seated this time, close to one another—muted their criticism in what was the last such faceoff before Super Tuesday. Even moderator John King, famously roughed up by Gingrich in their last encounter, emerged unscathed.

Romney could have used the birth control question to rip Santorum as an extremist. Instead, he pivoted to denounce President Obama for an “attack on religious conscience,” referring to the dustup over Catholic organizations being required to offer health plans that include contraception (before the subsequent compromise).

Santorum delivered his most passionate response of the night when asked about having warned of “the dangers of contraception.” His pivot was to the decline in marriage rates and the rise in out-of-wedlock children (though it’s not clear how reduced contraception would do anything but lead to more such children). What “the left” fails to grasp, he declared, is that “just because I’m talking about it doesn’t mean I want a government program to fix it.”

The final part of Stephen Green’s aka Vodkapundit’s Drunk Blogging:

6:51PM LAST QUESTION: Who sucks the least?

(I paraphrase.)

6:51PM Ron: I can win. I haven’t won anywhere, but I swear I can win.

6:52PM Newt: The public doesn’t understand that I have a program.

6:53PM Mitt: My circuitry does not permit an actual answer to the question.

6:54PM Rick: I need money.

6:55PM Longer Rick: Seriously, I need some money.

6:56PM And… that’s it. Summation to follow in shockingly short order….

….With all that in mind, there was one candidate sorely missing from tonight’s debate. And that man’s name is: Barack Obama.

There are two reasons for Obama’s omission.

First, we’re in the endgame of the GOP nomination process, so they’re going to go after each other like a cage full of male baboons with just one female in the cage with them.

Second, CNN and the rest of the MSM doesn’t want to hold an honest debate on the single most important issue at hand: Has Obama governed well?

While Obama maintains some nice likability numbers, pretty much everybody hates every little thing he’s actually done. But you wouldn’t know that from anything John King (not Anderson Cooper!) asked tonight.

My friend and coworker Bill Whittle maintains that the GOP is suicidal to uphold the pretense that the MSM is neutral in this contest, and should grant them their fatal pretense. Twenty debates later, I’m forced to conclude that Bill, for once, is overly optimistic. Panglossian, even. Tonight’s debate had as much to do with selecting a nominee — and directing that nominee towards November — as a Bourbon Street Mardi Gras flasher has to do with actual Catholicism.

Thanks for the enticing show, but… now what?

Earlier Live Blogging

6:50: Last question from King. Asks them biggest misconception about each one. Paul: Myth “by the media that I can’t win.” Notes that poll showed he could beat Obama in Iowa. But he says when he talks to people “that misconception isn’t there.” Gingrich: points to his background and working with Reagan. He’s skipping the question about misconceptions to do boilerplate. Rehearsed pap. Romney: Romney is IGNORING IT totally and doing a closing statement. YUCK. King asks him again. “You get to ask the questions you want I get to give the answer I want.”
Romney blew it.
That sound bite will be played constantly. Foot in mouth again.
He WILL NOT ANSWER a simple question.

Santorum: Electability. He answers the question. Swipes at Romney’s ads, money and notes his convictions. But again he’s giving a PREPARED closing statement. Used an answer to deliver his riff.
MY TAKE: Romney lost his cool and tried a Gingrich like attack on the media.
I thought he look evasive, bad and too reliant on canned material in that answer.

Some Tweets by Dick Polman:

@DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Santorum gets zapped on voting record – moral No to birth control, but votes Yes on bills including it. Sen vote records are often baggage.

49m Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Notice how none of these white men have uttered a single phrase about the importance of letting women run their private lives? #CNNdebate

53m Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Rick: Just because I hate birth control doesn’t mean I want gvt to curb it. Why would conservatives buy that? Isn’t talk alone ineffectual?

58m Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Yay “religious freedom!” Guys, the question was about birth control. Natch, they don’t address it. Keep driving women to Obama. #CNNdebate

1h Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Fantasy: As candidates trash the fed program that saved Detroit automakers, a growling Clint Eastwood rises from seat to slap them silly.

1h Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Sounds like Team Mitt scoured the nation to find all the people who are enthused about Mitt – enough to fill this one room. #CNNdebate

1h Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Mitt provoking Rick to talk so much Senatetalk is a good thing for Mitt. Makes Rick look like the DC insider he was/is. #CNNdebate

1h Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Even tenured political scientists would be “severely” bored by all this Mitt-Rick legislatese. #CNNdebate

What are the odds that any of these guys will mention that the Dow cleared 13,000 earlier in the day? #CNNdebate
1h Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open

Newt’s not singing again. Clearly, those satanic secular values have corrupted him. #CNNdebate
1h Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open

3h Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
It’s lucky the candidates will be sitting tonite, because otherwise that giant crucifix Santorum will be lugging could get heavy. #CNNdebate
3h Dick Polman @DickPolman1 Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
I’ll be live-tweeting the GOP debate tonite, while peering fearfully out the window for any sign of Santorum’s “evil forces.” #CNNdebate


6:45: Gingrich whether you agree with him or not really seems passionate about education. Paul says Newt is in the right direction “but not far enough.” Goes after Santorum again: on Santorum first supporting it now says he’ll repeal it.
The BIG story here tonight is Romney and Paul double teaming Romney.
And Santorum looks awful on defense.

6:40: On No Child Left Behind.
Frankly, these four look left behind..
Santorum admits mistake supporting No Child Left Behind. Some boos.
What is notable here is that Santorum HAS worked with Dems and that is now a negative in today’s Republican party. Compromise was the fuel of democracy — now it is viewed as partisan treason. 15 years ago it was a virtue; now it is a supposed sign of weakness.
Romney says George W Bush was right in his reasoning for No Child Left Behind for standing up to the teacher’s union and that he could see doing some changes. But he sticks by Bush (and reports suggest Bush family members like Romney.)

6:39: Paul says Al Qaeda’s plan to bog us down in the middle east seems to be coming true. Says the moral and other arguments don’t seem to work with his codebaters But say “I”m going to win this argument for economic reasons” — noted that Soviets left Afghanistan because the country made them broke. Says this is how it’ll turn out here, too.

6:35: Santorum says Obama afraid to stop Iran and unless Obama is dumped we’ll face a “cataclysmic” situation. Gingrich: what he’d do on Syria. Uses that to say the United State should drill drill drill and open many lands for drilling. Urges covert actions to help undermine regime. Says on Syria this shows: “As long as your America’s enemy, you’re safe.” Santorum had noted Syria is Iran’s key ally. Romney says it’s good news Syria leader in trouble and that we need to grab onto this.

6:29: Paul loses crowd. Says no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapon. Says we are encouraging Iran to get a nuclear weapon because they feel threatened. Pooh poohs possibility of Iran having just one nuclear weapon. Going to war rapidly like this “is risky and its reckless” and if go to war, do it with a declaration of war. Sanctions “are already backfiring.”

6:28: Santorum says me too to Romney’s hard line on Iran. “There’d be no better candidate than me” because he has been “on the trial” of Iran and author of a bill for about 8 years. Says George Bush, Joe Biden and Barack Obama all opposed him. Says to take a good position on foreign policy, just find out Biden’s position and take the opposite. Santorum is arguing that Romney may walk the walk but he has talked the talk in Congress. Talks about “the radicals in Egypt” who the President is happy to help them out. And says on Iran “we do nothing”

6:27 Predictable responses so far on Iran. Nothing I haven’t heard before. Gasoline. Romney talks about threat of Iran with nukes. “We simply cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weapons. And this PResident has had a lot of failures..but nothing in my view is a serious as his failure to deal with Iran appropriately.” Romney here seems truly to believe his words (who is his new acting coach?). But a good answer with specifics, agree with it or not. He will be quite appealing in debates if this is the way he handles a question.

6:23: On women’s role in the military.Paul fears the draft coming back and eventually drafting women (he suggests). “I don’t want even the men over there — I don’t want the women killed but I don’t want the men being killed in these wars.” Wars, he says, must be morally justified to defend the country. “But when it’s an offensive war going where we shouldn’t be that’s quite a bit different.” Santorum: concern he said was about some things in infantry. Should “not have social engineering” in the military. Santorum defused his controversy adeptly.

6:20: Best answer when candidates are asked to describe themselves in one word, by Gingrich: “Cheerful.” All of the rest were sooooo self serving. (Gingrich knows how to deliver a laugh line, doesn’t he?) That’s like Donald Trump saying: “Modest”

Some Tweets by political scientist Larry Sabato:

12m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
What Sant should have said: “I supported Specter & you backed Tsongas. At least Specter was an R back then.”

14m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Next Mit attack on Sant: “By your support of Specter you endorsed the absurd magic-bullet theory!”

15m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
CNN can recoup debate costs if it puts 4 candidate scratch pads up for sale on eBay.

17m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Think about what you’ve seen so far. Is any of this helping the eventual GOP nominee in the fall?

25m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
I don’t want to even think about the Twitter jokes we’ll be seeing involving guns and birth control.

28m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Don’t bring up Satan, Rick. Don’t bring up Satan…

31m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
I can’t believe we’re back to contraception. Didn’t anybody learn from ABC?

32m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
The candidates are tired. The campaign is tired. We’re tired. And it’s only Feb.

37m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
I’m starting to see why we’re cuttting debates at number 20.

47m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
“Ron Paul is a wastrel–but I’m not criticizing him!”

48m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Rick, you’re in a deep hole. Stop digging.

49m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
I’m expecting somebody to up the ante: “I promise to tear down all earmark-paid projects!”

50m Larry Sabato @LarrySabato Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
Rick is defending earmarks, which ain’t easy in front of a GOP crowd.

Part of NPR’s live blogging:

Update at 8:58 p.m. ET. Planned Parenthood And Contrception:

Santorum is thrown on the ropes first by Paul and then by Romney.

Paul, who has attacked Santorum sharply in previous debates, throws a controversial jab his way saying Santorum voted for Planned Parenthood.

When Santorum tried to defend himself the crowd booed. And Romney jumped in to say that in a YouTube video Santorum praised his vote on Title 10 — which funds programs like Planned Parenthood.

Santorum again got boos for the crowd when he said that he made the video to make the point that while he is against contraception morally, he could put that aside and vote for bills that include it.


6:15: None of them said anything notably inflammatory on immigration. Rubio must be relieved.

6:12: King quotes Marco Rubio being worried about GOP politico rhetoric has been “harsh” and “intolerable.” Gingrich pivots to Obama going to El Paso to make a demogogic speech. He CORRECTLY notes the Reagan bill was supposed to solve all of this. Gingrich says they were all shortchanged on it. Gingrich says you have to go one step at a time. First control the border. (Note that I covered that issue as my job as a San Diego Union reporter in the 80s: the bill failed because there were few sanctions on employers and in the end employers it was believed wanted the illegals for cheap labor. So people were amnestied but the second component was not enforced).

6:11: Santorum: Again says feds should do what Arizona is doing. To hear them talk, Jan Brewer will be named Vice Presidential nominee…

6:09: Romney says Arizona law is a “model” with the everify system for workers which has reduced the number of illegal workers. Says govt should drop lawsuits against Arizona: promises drop lawsuits, everify nationally, sanction employers. Boiler plate rehearsed answer.

607: A fence? Gingrich still endorses it says it worked on San Diego-Mexico border, but the fence stopped. When asked about cost Gingrich plays to base: if fed government was competent you “probably” could do it for a lot less money. PROBABLY? That hedge is so big it belongs in Central Park.

6:06: Paul: Feds do have responsibility for borders.

6:05: HERE GOES THE LATIN VOTE! A question from an audience member on securing the border. Let’s see who further hurts the GOP with Hispanic voters.

6:02: Romney and Santorum continue tussle. “You used federal government to fund a government takeover of healthcare in Massachsetts.” Santorum explains why he supported Specter to help the GOP on judicial appointments.

6:01: Romney notes that Santorum supported Arlen Specter. Blames that for having Obama care. That is called a s-t-r-e-t-c-h, Mr. Romney.

5:57: Santorum defensive on Planned Parenthood funding. When he is defensive he looks VERY defensive and shakey. Almost tenatitve. I can’t see where he will pick up a lot of support from this debate. Paul:”This demonstrates the problem I’m talking about. There’s always an excuse!” Basically, Romney and Paul are double teaming Santorum. Romney trying to catch Santorum on voting for some bills that included contraception. He’s coming across now as “I was for it before I was against it.” Santorum now switches and blames the issue for being alive due to Romney care. Gets booed. Santorum needs more supporters in the audience: Paul and Romney have the joint packed.

5:54: Gingrich looks at Romney with a smile like he feels “Are you kidding me??” But doesn’t go all the way. Talks about tyranny and Nixonian knifer talking about “whether it’s Romney care of Obama care”. Supposedly a thoughtful comment but is a dig at Romney.

5:53: Romney denies Gingrich comparison that he was like Obama on the church and contraceptives in Massachusetts.

5:52: Now Romney recites his prepared stats on the family. He talks about “the liberals” going crazy for teaching abstinence in school. Now, they’ve defended family. When does Mom and Apple Pie come under debate?

5:51: Paul Don’t blame the pills for the immorality…the immorality creates the pills. Like on guncontrol, he says: guns don’t kill people people do.

5:49: Santorum on contraception. Points to book that came out Problem in culture with children being raised by children, children being raised out of wedlock. Says we have a problem in the country with family fractured. BOILERPLATE. He is now clearly reciting a prepared response – and BOY does it sound prepared. All he needs is notes written on his hand or a telemprompter. He looks as sponatenous here as Romney does on the stump. Others may disagree but this is so rehearsed.

5:47: Romney panders. Attacks Obama on religion. Santorum nods. Honestly folks: who would have thought the 2012 election would be about Obama’s religion. It is such a turn off to this independent voter. I agree with Sullivan: I’d turn off the set right now except I want to watch and evaluate this debate.

5:45: YEP! Gingrich starts attack on the “elite media” and double standard with Obama. Gingrich is trying to remake the wheel. A broken wheel. He is so predictable. Santorum is the next one to blast the press?

5:45: Which candidate believes in birth control and if not why? Lots of boos Gingrich ready for his press attack.

Here’s a chunk of Wall Street Journal Live blogging:

5:43 pmby Danny YadronAdd a Comment
Newt Gingrich gets brought into the auto bailout debate under the warning that “it’s a tough one,” by moderator John King. “It’s not a tough one,” Mr. Gingrich replies. He goes on to blame the United Auto Workers union for weighing down American car makers.

5:42 pmby Peter NicholasAdd a Comment
Rick Santorum used the auto bailout discussion to strike at one of Mr. Romney’s vulnerabilities. When Mr. Santorum said he believes in markets not just when it’s convenient, he implies that Mr. Romney takes positions when it’s politically expedient.

5:41 pmby Gerald F. SeibAdd a Comment
It’s obvious that Mitt Romney has come prepared to duel head to head with Rick Santorum. He’s gone way back to tick off old Senate votes that Mr. Santorum cast, including a “bailout” of the airlines after 9/11 and the steel industry (important in his home state of Pennsylvania) to counter his declaration that he opposes all bailouts.

5:40 pmby Sara MurrayAdd a Comment
Mr. Romney, in explaining his opposition to the auto bailouts, says there’s no way the government would’ve let the American auto industry collapse. He’s advocated for a managed bankruptcy followed by government loan guarantees, if necessary. It’s proving to be a tricky position for Mr. Romney in his native state of Michigan, widely viewed as a must-win for the candidate.

BREAK...Here’s a chunk of Andrew Sullivan’s live blogging (his times EST):

8.33 pm. Boos, sneers, gotchas … all about earmarks, which is a meaningless isue without a line item veto, which Rick and Mitt agree on. Newt eventually calls Romney on his bullshit. In the end, Ron Paul managed something of a win. But it was a confusing, petty, cat-fight. They all lost. I would have turned off the TV by now if I weren’t being paid to keep watching.

8.30 pm. Santorum had a pretty good response on earmarks vis-a-vis Romney. I didn’t realize how much federal money Romney got for the Salt Lake Olympics. And then he mentioned someone called Dick Cheney. That’s the first time that’s happened during the entire debate series.

8.28 pm. Gingrich bored me. He seems as if he is resigned to losing this.

8.25 pm. How can Romney mention his Massachusetts record and not mention healthcare?

8.20 pm. Best line of the night so far: “Because he’s a fake.” And Ron Paul’s fiscal record is pretty hard to beat. He comes off as the outsider again – the really genuine one. Then Santorum says he got a “hero award.” He sounds like a boy scout trying to impress a crazy but lovable old uncle by showing him his badges. I give the battle to the crazy old uncle. He’s real.

8.15 pm. In the first serious Romney-Santorum spat on taxes and spending, I’d call it a draw. Both were feisty; neither was in any way persuasive, of course. But neither seemed the alpha male.

5:40: Paul: “If bailouts are bad they’re bad and we shouldn’t be doing it.” Government is supposed to protect not regulate or undermine contracts.

5:34: King question about bail outs and why wrong. King asks Santorum to explain why he was against bail out. Boilerplate answer. Romney on Santorum’s digs at him: “Nice try, but now let’s look at the facts.” Explains why wanted a managed bankcrupty then if they need help could get govt guarentees “no way would we allow the auto industry to go bankrupt” His explanation won’t work in a general election. Rattles off Santorum’s votes on bailouts. Romney paints the way it came out “I was right.” He’ll face lots of fact checks on this one. Gingrich: a lot of the auto industry was just fine. Romney/Santorum: a draw so far. You can see that both see each other as standing between them and the nomination. Gingrich is relatively sedate tonight. Has he decided his moment is over? Says Obama paid off the UAW..

5:33: So far no one has been a standout.

5:28: Romney blasts earmarks, Santorum smiles but upset Romney notes that he voted for “the bridge to nowhere.” Santorum smiles and nods. “While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the bridge to nowhere.” Santorum: says the process Romney describes is how the process works. So what he’s suggesting, he says, is how earmarks worked in the past. Romney swipe at Gingrich earmarks. Now Gingrich mad. Santorum says Romney “misrepresenting the facts you don’t know what you’re talking about.” A few boos. Santorum explains how earmarks work. Issue, Santorum says, there “was transparency” on earmarks. Santorum now blasts Paul as a big earmarker. Gingrich sits and laughs.

“This is one of those easy, demogogic fights that get you in a lot of trouble,” Gingrich says. If Obama is President you might want the House imposing things on the President. Gingrich talks about how he worked to help get the big bucks for the Olympics. Gingrich does little riff on Romney twisting Olympics money. These guys are now gobbling up time on this one subject. Time to (excuse the phrase) move on.

5:25: John King asks if they regret earmarks and why they thought Salt Lake Olympics earmarks were wrong. Santorum says he only attacked Romney on that because Romney was trying to suggest all earmarks were wrong when he himself got some money for the Olympics “There was abuse and when abuse happened I said we should the earmarks.” Santorum here seems to be defensive. I see an opening for his foes here. Says he was proud defended earmarks at the time but did feel there was some abuse. VERY CONFLUSING!

5:23: Fairly sedate so far. Will fireworks come tonight or do we wait until Tampa?

5;21: Romney asked about “severely conservative” statement. Says he was “severe…strict” and rattles off some of his policies in Massachusetts — in a state that was a liberal state.

5:18: Santorum touts National Review applauding his record and other awards he got as conservative.Points to how he stood up in Pennsylvania as a conservative. Paul: says a cop out when Santorum compares himself to other members of Congress because Americans are sick of Congress. Also notes that conservatives are “quite pleased” with spending money overseas. “So you can’t just by for the rating.”

5:17: Ron Paul, asked about an ad, repeats that he thinks Santorum is a “fake.” Talks about politicians who do one thing in office and say another when they run and all but physically points his finger at Santorum, who smiles politely like he’s tolerating a batty uncle. But Paul is winning the crowd the more he talks. Now he talks about foreign aid.

5:15: Gingrich notes that this is anniversary of Washington’s birth. (Hey, guys does this mean tonight you won’t tell a life??) Gingrich again looks great with his specificity. Comes across as a solid policy wonk.

5:14: Romney gives strong refutation of Santorum’s charges about Romney. Says Santorum voted to raise debt ceiling five times without compensating cuts. Romney is primed.

5:13: Santorum defending his votes. “Sure I had some votes…” that he regretted. That doesn’t always work well in politics. Says to look at his record on other things — and he never raised taxes but Romney did. Says Romney has “adopted the Occupy Wall Street rhetoric.”

5:11: Romney has a slew of opp research stats on Santorum not being a fiscal conservative. He rattles them off then says he wants to respond to the audience member’s question. Good answers since he is specific. Romney comes across well when he does the rehearsed bits…the key is what happens in moments of anger or contention.

5:08: Question from audience about debt. Good worksmanship like answer by Santorum and of course he has “repeal Obama care” in there to get the obligatory cheer. When he talks on economy, welfare, you may not agree with Santorum but he connects fairly well on TV. PREDICTION: it won’t be long till they rip into him.
5:07 Intros. Biolerplate from Ron Paul. Boilerplate from Santorum. Boilerplate and too long entry by Romney. Gingrich talks about President bowing to a Saudi King again. Does that include the two Bushes?

Photo via CNN.