9.59 pm. Bottom line: creepy ideological litmus test grilling. Huntsman was very smart not to fall for this. Gingrich knew his elderly audience very well – from starting with George Washington and ending with the Alinskyite that is deliberately destroying Washington's achievement. It's deranged, of course. But it may work – to Newt's advantage at first and then surely to Obama's.
9.55 pm. Santorum focuses mainly on America as a moral enterprise and "we are sick from the inside." He cites abortion and marriage under attack. He will not surrender.
9.53 pm. Gingrich focuses entirely on Obama hatred. He focuses on Obama for eight years as a disaster and then tries to soften himself by asking people not to support him but to be with him. He knocked Romney out of the park. Because he has such an intimate, effortless grasp of what turns the base voter on. They will be roused by one thing: hatred of this president, and the marshalling of any evidence of any problems in America as a way to defeat him.
9.52 pm. Ron Paul pitches states' rights as his final message – and reinstating nullification.
9.51 pm. Rick Perry rambles on about forcing the US Congress to be part-time, and then claims he has a purpose-driven life.
9.50 pm. Romney says that America is at risk of being a country governed by the government. Not exactly red meat to cite David Brooks in his first sentence.
9.47 pm. What Wiki says is in Bastiat's La Loi, Ron Paul's favorite book:
In The Law, Bastiat states that "each of us has a natural right — from God — to defend his person, his liberty, and his property". The State is a "substitution of a common force for individual forces" to defend this right. The law becomes perverted when it punishes one's right to self-defense in favor of another's acquired right to plunder.
Bastiat defines two forms of plunder: "stupid greed and false philanthropy". Stupid greed is "protective tariffs, subsidies, guaranteed profits" and false philanthropy is "guaranteed jobs, relief and welfare schemes, public education, progressive taxation, free credit, and public works". Monopolism and Socialism are legalized plunder which Bastiat emphasizes is legal but not legitimate.
9.44 pm. No, he would not get rid of all federal labor laws! A dangerous wobble, as Cuccinelli frowns. I don't think he helped himself with this performance; while Newt did fine. Which means that Romney's slow fade and Gingrich's sudden rise seem fated to continue for a bit. If anyone is watching this.
9.43 pm. Yes, he is orange. Like Gore in that infamous second debate with Bush.
9.39 pm. Romney defends a federal role in education as a way to counter federal teachers' unions. Unlike all the others, he stands by No Child Left Behind. He's coming off more liberal than the others – which may be a liability in this context. Then he clumsily ducks the question over a federal role over school lunches.
9.36 pm. Romney says he looks forward to being challenged by Obama on the similarities between his healthcare proposal and Obamacare. Coming after Paul, you suddenly get a blast of complete phoniness.
9.33 pm. It's Stepford Man! First up, he cites the EPA as a means to crush the free enterprise system! I mean" seriously. He's claiming that Obama officials are gathered behind closed doors to plotting how to destroy the private sector economy! It's not just that this is an unfortunate by-product of environmental regulation; it is designed to destroy the private sector.
9.30 pm. Ron Paul, asked to name a book Americans should read, cites "The Law" by Frederic Bastiat. Wow. He's different from the others because he rally does seem like a human being, thinking in real time sincerely, offering answers that no focus group would ever provide or even know about. I remain a big fan. And he has done more to improve the GOP's foreign policy and civil liberties debate than anyone else on the planet.
9.28 pm. Ron Paul cites Prohibition as the worst constitutional amendment. Great call.
9.25 pm. How to get rid of Medicare? And the Federal Reserve, of course – with transitional programs. Yes, there's a reason he cannot get off the ground. And then he wants a one-year spending cut of $1 trillion, which would effectively initiate a global depression. Sigh.
9.23 pm. A reader writes:
So, Perry seems to want term limits for justices, assuming we do not abolish the judicial branch altogether, plus tons of amendments to the Constitution, but he does not want the Constitution changed? Am I that drunk already?
I wish I were. But I always enjoy me some Ron Paul.
9.20 pm. Ron Paul insists again that the US's meddling in the Middle East is the root cause of 9/11. I simply don't understand how abolishing the EPA and soft enforcement of environmental laws will not lead to dirtier water and dirtier air. And it is a fact that the Republican proposals on healthcare do leave millions of Americans uninsured, compared with Obamacare. That's not an outrageous statement. It's just a fact. If you want everyone to have access to affordable healthcare, the GOP has nothing for you.
9.18 pm. Terrorism is a crime! Finally we come to life. You can imagine how much this dooms him with a large section of the authoritarian Christianist base. And yet he seems neither defensive nor rattled … just sincere.
9.16 pm. Ron Paul favors the federal government enforcing the Bill of Rights. And he basically argues that the Patriot Act was an effective repeal of the Fourth Amendment.
9.15 pm. Good call, governor Huntsman. This is really grueling. But Ron Paul is up! Yay!
9.12 pm. It's fascinating that these Republicans vie with each other to prove their federalist credentials and yet all agree that on matters they really care about – abortion an marriage – there should be one federal answer for the entire country enforced through a constitutional amendment.
9.11 pm. Bachmann goes for the Kelo decision as the worst in the past fifty years. Good call. At least she knew of one.
9.07 pm. Abolishing the Department of Education will not be enough! Getting rid of the Bush legacy and the Race To The Top are somehow integral to educational reform. Bachmann is arguing that we can do without the EPA, even when states' environmental policies conflict. But she's completely dumbstruck by the consequences of abolishing the EPA. She clearly hasn't thought this through for more than a couple of minutes.
9.04 pm. I'm struck by the anal retentive constitutionalism of the questioners, and their insistence on vetting each of the candidates on these Tenth Amendment issues alone. Maybe that's what the base is interested in. But it's going to sound rather abstruse to others. Ron Paul has indeed made an impact – before he has even appeared.
9.02 pm. Bachmann! I'm getting a little blurry but I think we have an argument that Obamacare includes – gasp – available contraception; and that the country should spend over $130 billion to round up illegal immigrants and send them home.
8.54 pm. Perry explains that the Constitution's meaning is self-evident. There is no need for any interpretation. Just like the Bible. Then a goofy, adolescent gesture with his lapel mic. Next!
8.51 pm. Another Constitutional Amendment – to ensure that liberal judges can be thrown out and the federal judiciary is even more thoroughly politicized.
8.48 pm. More grilling on the Tenth Amendment. Now it's education – and Perry backs ending federal support for school meals or the GI bill. He'd also abolish the Department of Education.
8.43 pm. Perry actually does a pretty god job in defending states' rights. The consensus here seems to be that the federal government really shouldn't exist in large swathes of its current authority.
8.39 pm. Now we've got Perry. He looks better sitting down and the hair is perfectly dyed. But he still cannot answer how he, as the executive, can render a Congressional law null and void. He can't. Cuccinelli points out just how implausible this week.
8.36 pm. It's a little odd that Huckabee himself is doing nothing in this forum. He asks no questions at all, presumably because it would put him in the position of being a partisan, depending on the nature and force of his questions. And so we have this kind of Star Chamber format, in which the most hardcore Christianists and anti-government fanatics grill candidates on their political correctness. Which means the Romney section is going to be fun.
8.34 pm. A lie: Obama is enforcing DOMA; he is just not defending the law in court. Which Santorum is fine with. If the courts find DOMA unconstitutional, he'd come up with another version. He asserts that the judiciary is not the final arbiter of the Constitution.
8.31 pm. Now we have a question the premise of which it is outrageous for the federal government to enforce environmental laws and protection. Jeez. Santorum pledges not to enforce regulations when environmental laws are not automatically re-authorized. It's been a while since I saw a political party so brazenly hostile to environmental protection.
8.29 pm. Santorum backs a federal constitutional amendment to ban marriage. He wants the Constitution to be a guide to moral principles: hence his support to amend it to ban marriage equality and all abortion.
8.27 pm. Santorum is whiffing on how to encourage the family through the politics. His welfare point seems dated to me, after welfare reform. Then we just get blather about "promoting marriage". No laws, just preaching about marriage and fidelity.
8.25 pm. We were not apparently dealing with terrorism before 9/11, according to Santorum. Really? Santorum criticized the suspension of habeas corpus under Lincoln but not under George W. Bush.
8.20 pm. Another attempt to understand his ad with Pelosi. He seems to be saying that it was a mistake because Pelosi's radioactivity obscured his conservative environmental argument. Then a daring, provocative embrace of George Washington.
8.18 pm. It's anti-American to back separation of church and state in public high schools. Anti-American. Why can't the Republican party move past its McCarthyite instincts?
8.16 pm. Ok. A shot every time we hear the words "Washington bureaucrat". This is getting like a Politburo meeting in which various party members are required to prove their adherence to the party platform.
8.09 pm. The far right anti-gay Virginia AG Cuccinelli finally puts the boot in. Newt on healthcare says he backed the individual mandate to prevent Hillarycare. Huh? And he still has no defense of his embrace of Nancy Pelosi on climate change. Against all these sane heresies, Gingrich puts out there his conservative credentials.
Now Cuccinelli wants to know how Gingrich will be able to enforce hard right ideological purity in his administration. Gingrich blathers.
8.05 pm. Now we're getting a propaganda message from three hardline Republicans. I love the fact that these people are now guardians of the Constitution. None of them said a word during the Bush administration's truly radical expansion of executive power, including the suspension of habeas corpus and the insitution of torture, even against US citizens on American soil.
8.03 pm. Oh shit. This is going to be two hours and no one is allowed even to mention other candidates. The hardball questioners include Republican state attorneys general. No journalists allowed. In fact, is this the first ever presidential debate in which not a single journalist is present? It's kind of a seminal moment in the cooptation of the GOP by FNC.