10 pm. Gingrich won this debate and Romney lost it. Huntsman and Paul distinguished themselves from the rest of the crowd. I wonder if Paul could make a run in Iowa and Huntsman get a little bump in New Hampshire. I wonder if Romney could drop below 20 percent. Huntsman came alive finally. More fire, please. More passion. There's still been no vote. People can still vote for Huntsman.
Gingrich is being diagnosed as having a Perry "heartless" moment for actually advocating a humane approach to illegal immigrants who have been in the US a long time and have ties and families and children in the US. It made him stand out for me, in a good way. And it really is a sad feature of the GOP if humaneness is somehow a liability.
9.55 pm. Another torture-defender, Marc Thiessen, asks for the candidates to find something else frightening in the world. Santorum sees a Jihadist-leftist alliance in Central and South America. Ooookaaay. Paul actually sees America as living by the same rules as everyone else. Imagine that. Perry wants another Cold War with China, primarily because of abortion. Romney backs up Santorum on the Hezbollah-lefties in South America (forgive me, but I need to bone up on that one). Cain actually says something sane: cyber attacks. Gingrich focuses on a nuclear terror threat. Huntsman brings us back to debt and trust at home. A great performance from him – and a perfect ender.
9.53 pm. Romney is giving us the Full Neocon Jacket. With added anti-China sabre-ratling. There is no place the US should not ultimately control or interfere with. It's really a debate between the 20th Century and the 21st. Mitt wants the 20th back.
9.51 pm. I'm getting the thrill up my leg with Ron Paul again – citing Wolfowitz to argue that al Qaeda targeted the US because of American military intervention in the Middle East. "Why don't we mind our own business?"
9.48 pm. Perry sounds reasonable for the first time on Syria's enmeshment with Iran. I don't think a no-fly zone would really help much, but it's a worthwhile debate. Huntsman's classic conservatism is refreshing and reassuringly competent. But he doesn't have an answer on Iran's nuclear bomb either?
9.46 pm. Another war criminal as a questioner: Dick Cheney's enforcer, David Addington.
9.45 pm. I'd say this debate has been one of the best so far in terms of substance and internal debate. But as a critique of president Obama? They haven't really laid a glove on him yet.
9. 43 pm. I guess I'm not the only one:
You: "I expect him (Ron Paul), Gingrich and Huntsman to bounce after tonight."
9.38 pm. Gingrich's pragmatic response on immigration is impressive and places him to the left of Romney. He knows that the rhetoric is fatal to the GOP's outreach to Latinos. But he's also right: how cruel do you have to be in ripping settled families apart and remain America? This is Newt's best debate so far by far – which will, in my view, cement him as the front-runner.
9.36 pm. Romney's doing fine. But not as alive as Gingrich, Huntsman or Paul. Cain has largely faded out. Bachmann is too nuts, although her Pakistan answer shows she's a good study. Palin couldn't have pulled that one off.
9.33 pm. Did Gingrich just say that membership of a church should count for immigration leniency? I have to say that Gingrich has been much calmer and less gratuitously offensive than in the recent past. His defense of some law-abiding but previously illegal immigrants is another pleasant surprise.
9.30 pm. Great question from my friend Nick Schulz. A pro-immigration conservative! Santorum dodges the key issue of the number of H-1 visas. In my view, we should greatly expand highly skilled immigrants and give any graduate from graduate school get a green card with a diploma. And that means I agree fully with Newt Gingrich.
9.25 pm. Hezbollah is now targeting Arizona? Or are we in Perry-land? He says he will "shut down" the border. Paul again comes to the rescue: "the drug war is another war we should cancel." He's had a very strong debate – and gives us the next generation's views on Prohibition. I expect him, Gingrich and Huntsman to bounce after tonight.
9.20 pm. My favorite Romney gaffe: he began to say he supported the Geneva Conventions rather than the Anti-Genocide Conventions. Few up there will defend the Geneva Conventions.
9.14 pm. The word this time for Gingrich is "core." But he's now for privatizing social security. Then he actually says that Washington likes austerity and pain! If only! No word on Medicare, which is by far the biggest fiscal problem. Note that a majority of this panel opposes any defense cuts, would end the healthcare cost-controls in the ACA, will not budge an inch on tax increases, and yet wants to balance the budget soon. Seriously.
9.13 pm. Santorum would raise no net revenue, because he believes that tax increases would decrease revenues. He is still in 1986, without Reagan's pragmatism.
9.10 pm. Perry wants us to believe that the sequestration – agreed to by the GOP in advance – puts servicemembers' lives in danger. He's a moron. He wants more intensity from the president and wants to make the US Congress part-time. Go figure.
9.05 pm. Gingrich really believes that the US could instantly cause oil prices to plummet worldwide? It appears he does. But he does oppose an attack on Iran that is not regime change. And then he actually talks about Israel being "forced" to nuke Iran because the US won't do it with them conventionally! We're getting a good idea of what would occur under these various potential presidents. Under Romney, Santorum, Bachmann and Perry, a complete return to Bush-Cheney with a mindset created by the Cold War. Under Paul, a real reorientation between our means and ends. Under Huntsman, a real, intelligent retrenchment of our defense costs and strategy.
9.03 pm. "Friendly to our foes and disrespectful to our allies": this lie will be central to Romney's campaign. He is full-in on a fusion of the US with the Netanyahu government.
8.58 pm. War criminal Paul Wolfowitz asks the next question about foreign aid. Santorum backs it. But seriously, PEPFAR was about national security? It sounds like a tired cliche from an old Democratic party debate. Like much of the Bush administration. Once again, Ron Paul comes through … with a lovely quote about forcibly taking money from poor Americans to give to rich foreign plutocrats. Yes, it's over-the-top. But he's right that the domestic fiscal crisis is the greatest burden for our foreign policy. And then Paul pwns Romney, who has been bested several times by rivals tonight.
8.54 pm. Gingrich actually argues for a policy of minimal force against Iran. Two "franklys," by the way. But the idea that energy independence could occur in the next few months is dopey. Bachmann says that Obama has canceled the transcontinental oil pipeline and has met with Iran's leaders. She's out of her mind.
8.50 pm. The crucial question: will you back Israel in starting World War III against Iran?
Ron Paul cites Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief, in countering neocon war-mongering. And he actually says that Israel should bear the consequences of a pre-emptive war – and cites their nuclear weapons. You're not allowed to mention their nuclear warheads. And Paul rightly says that any defense of such a pre-emptive war against Iran should require Congressional support. Alas, it would probably get a majority.
8.46 pm. One other note: has anyone scored an actual point about a specific failure in Obama's foreign policy? Not yet, by my count.
8.41 pm. Gingrich is also accidentally defending Obama's policy vis-a-vis Pakistan. But he has a strong argument about unleashing military power with no restraints that will appeal to the GOP base. Santorum wants the US to have an unending imperial burden in occupying Afghanistan – because anything else would mean catastrophe at home. Cheneyism lives on – but it is finally being challenged by some on this stage.
At this point, I'd say that Gingrich and Huntsman have emerged as the winners. Both seemed clear. Romney seemed to be fading. Cain is done for. Ron Paul remains Ron Paul – a potentially history-making third party candidate if he wants it.
8.40 pm. Huntsman is on a roll – especially the comeback on deferring to military commanders. A great line about the generals in Vietnam. Maybe this is Huntsman's break-out moment. Man, I hope so. He's the sane conservative path past fear.
8.38 pm. Huntsman is praising Obama's foreign policy in Afghanistan, and he's extremely sane about balancing domestic and foreign priorities. His comeback against Romney – "Did you hear what I just said?" – was terrific. Romney retains the classic Cold War mindset – that if the US doesn't control something, it's dangerous.
8.35 pm. A trade zone will cure Pakistan of its historic suspicion of India? That's Rick Perry for ya. Every now and again, he veers into weird, naive Democratic territory. A reader notes:
Perry has gotten so bad that I just found myself nodding in agreement with Michele Bachmann!
8.33 pm. Readers note that Romney has flip-flopped on his own first name. It's Willard, not Mitt. I thought he was trying to be funny, and was as successful in this as he usually is. By the way, I also hereby add the words "fundamental/fundamentally" to the Newt drinking game. So far, sobriety rules.
8.30 pm. Huntsman backs the Obama drone program in Pakistan – after a lame meander through his domestic pitch. Bachmann clearly knows nothing about this subject.
8.28 pm. "No, Blitz!" Then the usual Cain nuttiness on how all you need is to get all the experts together and make a decision.
8.26 pm. God bless Ron Paul. I don't remember a serious declaration of war either. And his point that there is a distinction between terror suspects and terrorists seems to be beyond his colleagues.
8.24 pm. Perry sees the administration that found and killed Osama bin Laden as one that hasn't got a clue about intelligence. I wonder if he actually believes this. Santorum wants profiling Muslims at the airport and elsewhere: profiling by religion.
8.21 pm. It's great to see a real debate between fear and hope in the GOP on national security. Romney actually cites a body of law behind warfare. But the Cheney doctrine is that no law binds the president. He is the law.
8.15 pm. Newt immediately cites the most extreme likelihood of the man with a loose nuke. And unleashes a wave of Cheney-style fear. Ron Paul, God bless him, defends basic liberties in the face of the fear-mongering. Gingrich comes back hard in defending pre-emptive strikes against US citizens. Bu we have that, don't we? The FBI has such powers with US citizens. And Gingrich's clear-cut distinction between criminal jurisdiction and national security begs all sorts of questions. How do we know which possible criminal falls into which camp?
8.10 pm. Rick Perry talks about his wife. Sheesh. Mitt makes a joke that ripples into the dead silence of the room. Newt ups the ante and describes our current stakes as the "survival" of the US. Not quite shot-worthy, but close. Good to see so many of the candidates with relatives in the uniform.
8.07 pm. I love the gawky Ron Paul amble – amiable, a little meandering, but his own. And who is this tuneless Broadway twink? Pitchy, dawg, way pitchy.
8.05 pm. Drum roll: some guys from AEI and Heritage may be asking questions. Calm down in the back there.
8.03 pm. The opener this time looks like a blend between the opening credits of Bill Maher's show and some kind of Mission Impossible set of national security IDs.