9.57 pm. My take-away? Perry has proved himself an extreme, inarticulate, incurious W clone. He doubled down on the vicious attacks on social security; and his rhetoric was off-key. Huntsman emerged as an actual candidate; Romney kicked ass. Bachmann is wearing thinner and thinner. Paul is Paul. Santorum is a Vatican crank. Gingrich is an angry old man. Cain has no business being up there. Perry's poor performance gives Palin an opening. And an actual argument that people can understand about economic policy did not emerge.
Stay tuned for the Dish's trademarked summary of reaction from around the web.
9.52 pm. I still have no clear idea of what any of these candidates would do to turn the economy around. I'd support major tax reform, but all they have been offering is warmed over Reaganism. But Reagan is relevant for the 1980s, not the 20-teens. An entire generation has grown up and moved on. Tax receipts are at their lowest in fifty years; infrastructure is obviously vital; job growth was pathetic after the Bush tax cuts. Of course we all agree that only the private sector can truly spur economic growth, but, really: that's it?
9.51 pm. A reader writes:
So let me make sure I have this straight … Huntsman is the Superego, Perry is the Id and Romney is the Ego, right?
9.48 pm. A spontaneous round of applause for executing people! And Perry shows no remorse, not even a tiny smidgen of reflection, especially when we know for certain that he signed the death warrant for an innocent man. Here's why I find it impossible to be a Republican: any crowd that instantly cheers the execution of 234 individuals is a crowd I want to flee, not join. This is the crowd that believes in torture and executions. Can you imagine the torture that Perry would authorize? Thank God he's doing so poorly tonight.
9.47 pm. A shout-out to my colleagues' live-chat on the debate here.
9.44 pm. Does the president have the right to fire the Fed chairman tomorrow? Gingrich's belligerence is truly off the charts. Why is he up there? Listening to this debate, it seems as if American conservatism is now actively contemptuous of any environmental protection. Green conservatism is dead in this country.
9.40 pm. Huntsman walks the walk on evolution and climate science – in terms of electability. He's riding a wave tonight. Perry flails – associating climate science denial with Galileo! Then he seems robbed of speech in opposing any measures for green technology. An awful response. Then Bachmann wants to drain the Everglades. We're really reduced to this? And Bachmann thinks she is the defender of science in all this!
9.38 pm. Santorum seems to think that the end of the Soviet empire should mean any shift in American foreign policy. And then his assertion that the UN forced the US to invade Libya, when the US was lobbying the UN furiously, is nuts.
9.32 pm. Romney offers no digestible plans to get the economy moving. Perry insists that Keynes is finished, and argues that the stimulus created or saved zero jobs. And his inability to criticize Bush and Cheney's war in Iraq is somewhat pathetic – but very Republican. Bachmann, meanwhile, sounds more and more extreme. Her Christianist belief in Greater Israel for ever is striking. And then there is her inability to deal with argumentative logic. I agree with her on Libya, but she could at least concede, as I have, that the departure of Qaddafi is a good thing and a credit to Obama's strategy.
9.28 pm. The anti-tax extremism is really endemic. And the idea that Ronald Reagan would not raise taxes, when he did many times! And I love Huntsman's anti-pledge pledge. So why did he put his hand up last time? Then he wants to nation-build at home and withdraw troops from Afghanistan! Yes, this is a Republican.
9.25 pm. Some reader reaction: yes, Romney did make the Al Gore "lockbox" argument on social security; yes, Bachmann's hair looks like a flying nun attached to an electric socket; and yes, having this crew on Reagan's stage is not doing them any favors.
9.14 pm. You cannot really appreciate the difference between Reagan's GOP and this one until you look at immigration. Again, Perry is just off-key again: Obama as a possible "abject liar"? Please. Nice to hear Gingrich expressing some sympathy for long-time illegal immigrants who have worked and lived here for years. Bachmann has no answer to the question of mass deportation. Even when given two opportunities. She really is capable of staring past any actual question that might involve any difficulty. It's wide-eyed evasion.
Huntsman wins this, though, by embracing Reagan, advocating skills-based immigration and reforming the system of legal immigration, which is onerous, byzantine and hurting the US economy.
9.12 pm. I might be hallucinating but I think Gingrich just said something positive about Obama's education policy.
9.10 pm. It sounds to me like Perry is blaming Texas's appalling record in high school education on Mexicans!
9.08 pm. I loved Huntsman's line about the fortress mentality that is not American. I've been waiting a long time for a credible candidate to say that. He's having a much much better debate than last time around. He and Romney are winning this. Perry is losing this.
9.04 pm. Even when I think he's a little nuts, I still love Ron Paul. The federal government set the stage for 9/11! Wow. And then the moral hazard issue with FEMA. Gotta love it. Then removing the air conditioning from the Green Zone in Baghdad! Awesome.
8.57 pm. Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann both oppose mandatory vaccination. I have to say that public health vaccination seems to me to be a completely legitimate role for government. But then Perry boasts of spending billions to tackle cancer. That is a government role but basic health insurance mandates aren't? Perry really is becoming a Pinata. So far, this debate is helping Romney, it seems to me. Perry's appeal wears pretty thin pretty quickly. And Romney's condescending embrace of Perry was superb. As is his formula that Obama is a "nice guy" but doesn't have a clue how to run an economy. I disagree. But it's far, far smarter than the demonization of a president of character and decency.
8.53 pm. Social security is a "massive lie" and a "Ponzi scheme", according to Perry – and he disses Rove and Cheney as he does so. But the argument about the need to reform it somewhat to help make it viable is a legitimate one – and Romney deftly picks it up. Perry's rhetoric really is an electoral killer. And he is flailing badly.
8.51 pm. Scanning the audience, I see not a single brown or black face.
8.42 pm. "Medicare is a mandate." Then we have a defense of the silver dime! I love Ron Paul. Just for pointing out that Reagan initiated the deficits of our time.
8.37 pm. Perry completely ducks the question of economic inequality, by insisting that all that matters is a booming economy. But the economy, even when booming, has increased inequality to historic levels. It's not clear that Perry sees this looming reality. And it's odd that the question of poverty is addressed by Santorum and others by referring to the welfare rform of the 1990s. A decade and a half ago.
8.30 pm. Another lie from Bachmann: the notion that government has taken over all of healthcare in this country. But she's right that repealing universal health insurance will be a little more difficult than Romney suggests. Gingrich is also angry, nasty and testy, specifically attacking the media (again). I don't think personal attacks on this president are as effective as Gingrich thinks they are. And his concern for parliamentary procedure, considering his record, is a real piece of chutzpah.
8.26 pm. Finally, someone points out that in terms of health insurance, Texas is fiftieth of fifty states. And he gets a little tetchy when challenged on it, doesn't he? Huntsman again separates himself from the pack, in tems of polish, substance and clarity. No nerves tonight unlike last time.
8.24 pm. Perry jumps in to trash the individual mandate for health insurance. Romney makes the obvious case that emergency room care is a horribly inefficient way to have universal healthcare.
8.20 pm. Ron Paul believes we should never have bailed out the banks or the auto-companies. And then a weid diatribe against drug company lobbyists. And isn't the car industry an actual – and rare – industrial success right now?
8.19 pm. How big is Michele Bachmann's American flag brooch?
8.17 pm. A great Huntsman riposte to Romney's proposal of a trade war with China. A very strong start – especially the association with Reagan and the possibility of addressing the Chinese people in Mandarin. That would indeed be something. Totally different from his previous poor performance.
8.15 pm. So far, the only policies that have been mentioned are tax cuts or tax reform. It's as if government has been forbidden to do anything but lower taxes.
8.14 pm. Something tells me that Rick Santorum is not the best person to reach out to the Democrats in the Senate.
8.11 pm. Romney's off to a very polished stance. A nice demurral on "career politicians." And a swift response to Perry's tweak on job creation in Texas versus Massachusetts.
(Photo: David McNew/Getty.)