129040935

10.15 pm. One last thought from a reader that captures what I was trying to say earlier about their personal contempt for Barack Obama:

Here's an acid test for the GOP candidates: Name one thing Obama intentionally did that was good for America. As much as I despise Bush and everything he did (and I live in New Orleans), I can rattle off several things good about Bush. I can rattle off 50 more that was bad, but I see some things he did that made America better.

These guys couldnt do it if a gun was pointed at their head.

Killing bin Laden doesn't count, especially if you make a point of saying that it was really only a military achievement and required no commander-in-chief to insist on, authorize, overhaul and oversee the whole thing. Think they could praise him for tax cuts? Never.

10.00 pm. One last thought. I think Cain won this debate and Perry lost it. A mixed bag then. I wonder: has anyone this outside the political class ever led the polls in October in the year before an election? My mind goes back to Ross Perot – and Cain has a similar businessman's belief that he can do anything and a great, simple, effective sales technique. I've under-estimated him. The voters haven't. But can he actually win the nomination nationally? And beat Obama? I daren't predict, and won't.

9.52 pm. I suppose there were some encouraging things tonight – tax reform, cutting red tape, investing in education. But I have to say the level of debate, the other-worldly discussion in which so often up is down, and white is black, and our urgent priorities today are to ensure that 40 million people lose their health insurance and that Wall Street be deregulated more thoroughly than in the 2000s … well it's disorienting. The cure for spiraling demand is to cut more now, not later.

I really don't know what to say to this. I find it surreal. I'd like a minimally intrusive federal government, and lower, flatter taxes, so why do I feel so detached from this debate? I think because I respect the president and have some sympathy with the appalling legacy he was bequeathed, because I still believe the GOP has responsibility for that legacy and it would behoove them to figure out where they went wrong rather than insist on doing all the same things again; and because, as I argued earlier today, 2011 is not 1979, and repeating Reaganism is simply not attuned to the times, when revenues are in the toilet, debt and the threat of deflation are omnipresent, and corporate profits are enormous.

Huntsman I can understand and appreciate. Perry is an empty bad suit. Romney lies with such facility it unnerves me. Bachmann is a fanatic, as, although I am extremely fond of him, is Ron Paul. Santorum just seems like a lost child from the 1950s, trying to have the campaign he dreamed about when he was ten. Cain is an egomaniac businessman with a talk show host patter and a mild wit. Gingrich is a giant, gaseous asshole.

Thank God for painkillers.

9.44 pm Perry's entire answer to the growing inequality in America is that it is entirely the fault of Barack Obama. Entirely. They have constructed a version of the president that is completely of their own imagination. I mean: tax increases. Since Obama became president, he's raised taxes, they claim. Really? And when Obama actually cut Medicare, Romney criticized him for it! This party desperately needs to lose the next election if it is going to regain its sanity.

9.43 pm. Romney is saying that the stimulus package made no difference to employment. That's a lie. But he's right that we need a long-term shift in taxation, infrastructure and education as well.

9.41 pm. I wish I could parse what Gingrich just said, after we watched Bush endorse federal support for mass home-ownership. But I can't.

9.38 pm. Perry is incapable of answering complex questions. He's backed crony capitalism in Texas but opposes it when it' actually less crony but just as risky as Solyndra. But even if you agree with him, his affect is so laconic and lazy and his temperament seems snarly.

9.36 pm. Again, re-regulating Wall Street seems sane after 2007 to most of us. But in fact, what we should be doing, according to this crew, is deregulating Wall Street even more than it was when the crash came. Yes, the Vicodin is making all of this easier to digest.

9.33 pm. Is it me or is Romney returning to the middle classes? He embraced the notion earlier that the rich have done perfectly well these past few years, when defending his $200,000 income level on tax cuts.

9.30 pm. Cain endorses Greenspan. Santorum is gleeful. Ron Paul goes for the kill. But it's just weird to hear warnings of dire inflation in a recession in which deflation is a threat.

9.28 pm. Perry is talking healthcare. Tort reform and er, that's it. Good riposte from Karen on waivers. Perry cannot be persuading anyone with these lazy, meaningless cliches.

9.23 pm. Cain is oddly commanding. I still think it's the setting – the corporate table. But he is able to speak candidly and clearly, even when he's spouting nonsense. And he's right about the necessity for simplicity, transparency and clarity in taxation. Complexity is the tool of the corrupt and the rich. Transparency helps restore the connection between government and people. And a tax code that does not pick and choose which activities to tax distorts the market less.

If Cain can ride this theme further, he'll keep surprising us. And if Obama wants to regain the initiative, a radical simplification and reform of the tax code should be front and center.

9.18 pm. Sorry for the delay. Grabbed some food. The candidate exchanges are excellent. I'd say Bachmann scored some points against Perry, who seems unable even to articulate the simplest of responses. And Paul got some populist points against Cain. The Perry-Romney spat was a draw, but Romney's ability to lie still galls me. Obamacare also tackled only the uninsured like Romneycare – and left everyone else with existing insurance in eaxctly the same place. Romney was rattled enough to lie. Score one for Perry who is otherwise flailing badly.

8.59 pm. A reader sends a graph that illustrates how higher revenues were when Reagan backed a tax hike:

Total Tax Revenue 1980-2011

Revenues are waaay lower now. Yes, spending is now far higher and should be cut. But Reagan backed a tax increase when revenues were at 33 percent of GDP and we're now around 30. Logically, we have more space for tax increases than when Reagan backed them. Yet now they are unthinkable in this dogma ridden sect posing as a political party.

8.55 pm. Obamacare kills jobs. But massively increasing healthcare costs from private insurance companies is just swell. Head thumps round wooden table.

8.52 pm. Perry is still there. And completely incoherent. He needs no plans, no tax reform, no economists – who on earth is the other Rich Lowry by the way? – just a good old plan to get more oil out of the ground. At this rate, he's toast. And sure deserves to be.

8.49 pm. Huntsman is so obviously smarter and more able than all the rest of them put together. And for that reason he cannot get any traction at all. Lumping Romney with Donald Trump was an elegant stiletto.

8.47 pm. Bachmann calls the 999 plan a detailed 666 plan. But she's smiling.

8.39 pm. Bullseye – Reagan saying exactly the same thing as Obama. And Perry really had nothing to say in response, except that he doubted the tax increases were balanced by spending cuts. Romney doubles down on no revenue increases ever. Then Gingrich hammers "unilateral disarmament" because it is a stupid way to cut the debt. Somehow forcing these people around a round table where we're used to hearing complicated thoughts or ideas puts a massive drop-shadow behind their eccentricity.

8.36 pm. A reader channels my thoughts:

This has been quite literally the most insane 20 minutes of "economic" debate I've ever seen. The utter lack of understanding of how markets work, what caused the crisis and the role of the fed is astonishing and irresponsible.

 Even as someone who works on Wall St., I would never be so blind to the failings of the private sector that contributed to the crisis. And Romney's answer on Euro banks is also bordering on irresponsible as he should know better – a euro debt crisis would be good for the dollar at the expense of a global financial meltdown that would make 2008 look tame.

None of these people seem close to grasping the reality of the last four years. And yet they talk as if it's self-evident that the president is completely out of his depth. The sheer contempt for Obama is staggering to me. He really is a "boy" to them.

8.32 pm. Charlie Rose actually asked Ron Paul what he thought about federally subsidized housings. I've sometimes wondered if Charlie is a closet Paul-fan. That was a lame-ass question – but all of them are more intelligent than any of the previous questions in previous debates.

8.30 pm. Bachmann's pearls become her. Ditto the new hair. But hasn't she stolen you-know-who's look?

8.26 pm. Romney won't answer anything on the European debt crisis … but then backs the TARP. He's sane, but it isn't going to help with the base. Perry seems a complete bystander, by the way, swallowed up by this format because he can't have his rooster strut and demagoguic style.

8.23 pm. I'm loving Huntsman's tax reform pitch. But here's something about Herman Cain at this table. He seems much more dominant than in the past. I think it's his executive experience sitting at these kinds of discussions and dominating them as the CEO. He has certainly dominated the debate so far.

8.18 pm. Gingrich is now attacking a highly measured, scholarly advice on prostate cancer screening as a big government plan to kill more people; and now Bachmann is claiming that Obama wants to abolish Medicare and turn everything into Obamacare. They never addressed the basic issue of enormous costs in care at the end of life, which is essential to curbing healthcare costs and the debt.

It's an interesting moment when the pro-life fanaticism meets budget-cutting goals. The pro-life fanaticism doesn't even address budget cutting. It just ignores that question.

8.17 pm. I bet Republicans are hating on Karen Tumulty. Good question though.

8.15 pm. Huntsman stole my line about the gas industry. His best joke so far in these debates, but the bar was not high. So far, I have to say I hear more about "plans" rather than the details of those plans.

8.11 pm. Gingrich wants to throw Chris Dodd and Barney Frank in jail. And then he's railing against Ben Bernanke's "secret power." Wow. You begin to see the entire alternative universe. The federal government created credit default swaps and the recession. So far, this is actually an interesting conflict between the liberal intelligentsia of Bloomberg and the WaPo meeting … well, aliens. The questions keep referring to a world that the candidates do not believe exists.

8.08 pm. Oh boy Karen thought she was going to get Bachmann to deal with reality. But the financial collapse had nothing to do with the banks at all. Just the federal government.

8.07 pm. Perry's not telling us what his plan is – except drilling for oil and cutting regulations. Basically: Texas. Not a very encouraging start.

8.05 pm. Romney actually said that Obama had divided the country and blamed other people. I feel sick. That's such a huge fucking lie, such a grotesque distortion of the last three years, it reminds me why I can't stand the guy. A Ken doll capable of saying anything.

8.04 pm. Perry wants to drill, baby, drill. Basically, tear up the country and its seas for more oil.

8.03 pm. Man, Charlie made Herman Cain boring.

8.01 pm. I forgot. Two hours on the economy alone? Deep breath.

7.59 pm. So this is a Charlie Rose format and a host who looks like a parody of a New England professor. "Perfect weather in Dartmouth!" Spiffing, in fact.

7.58 pm. Ok. So did I just hear a drum circle? What is this Occupy Bloomberg?

7.57 pm. Some home news. I had a nasty tumble on my bike on Sunday and I toughed it out (or rather stayed in denial) till today, when I went to the doc and an x-ray showed a fractured elbow. I can still type although I can't write with a pen. I'm telling you this because a) I'm pathologically indiscreet and b) because I popped a Vicodin a couple hours ago and this GOP debate might get a little loopy.

Or it will finally make total sense.